Saturday, December 22, 2012


Back in the day I remember reading a  article in the old "General" about how to play the United States side in the game Pax Brittanica.

Now, I thought the game Pax B. was pretty cool and I played it with a group of people and we had fun doing it despite it's flaws.  However, that "General" article always stuck with me because it said that if you play the near perfect game as the US, you can hope to finish 4rth or maybe 3rd.


The idea that a game doesn't give a near equal chance of success, or what is called balance, is kind of silly right?  A game almost by definition is about fair competition.

Games are designed to do that right?

Well. not so much.

The  truth in the wargaming hobby is that a large number of gamers play "solitairy."  I don't mean to put solitary gamers down by any means, however, the end result is that many wargames are not designed with balance as a primary concern.

Take for example, "Flying Colors."  FC is a great system of showing age of sail battles, yet there was no attempt to try and balance the battles.  "Tragalgar" is a total joke in regards to balance; the British player will win every time.  There was no attempt to make an equal battle through victory conditions. 

This to me goes to the point of poor game design combined with the solitairy nature of wargamers.

Now, if you compare games like Ben Hull's Musket & Pike or Mark Miklo's Battles of the American Revolution, you see designers who attempt to create a competative game experience.

In the end for me, which you can see represented in my Top 10 GMT games, balance is as important in a game design as any other factor.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Holiday Fun

ASL-WO7 "Hell for the Holidays"

I recently finished up a couple of plays of Pete Shelling's Winter Offensive scenario, "Hell for the Holidays."  This scenario takes place in 1944 during the Battle of the Bulge.  The attacking Germans are attempting to gain control of 5 stone building hexes while avoiding a rather high CVP cap.  I played the defending Americans in both plays.  My first was against Dave Kleinschmidt and you can listen to our comments here:  It is at the 9 minute mark in Episode 81.

My second play was against Matt Book who had also played it once before as the Germans and who felt it favored the Germans.

The current ROAR record has it 20-8 in favor of the Americans.

German Advantages:  Mobility, Armor, Smoke
German Disadvantages:  Leadership, Numbers, SSR's, Sniper

The German force is an impressive one in many ways.  It features 7 elite squads supported, and transported by 6 half-tracks and 4 tanks, including a Jagdpanzer.  Also, all 5 of the gunarmed AFV have good smoke potential.  The German force is a very mobile one and the tanks are superior to the Americans in a face to face fight.

However, the Germans have some pretty big disadvantages.  Their leadership is poor with only an 8-1 and 8-0 leader.  They have only an equal amount of squad equivalents as the Americans.  They are also Lax and vulnerable to HTH close combat.  They have to enter as PRC and can't unload unless next to a building and crew survival is NA so any PRC will die with their transport.  Also, a SAN of 2 means the American Stuart tanks can be CE with little fear of sniper recall.

American Advantages:  Firepower, AT Gun, Bounding Fire
American Disadvantages:  Mobility, Low TK numbers

The American player has a nice infantry force with 6.5 6-6-7 squads armed with 2 MMG, 3 BAZ and a DC.  They outshoot the attacking German infantry 47 FP to 35 FP.  In addition, they have a big advantage in CC due to that firepower along with the German player being Lax.

Supporting the infantry is a HIP 37LL ATG.  The German vehicles will be in danger until this is revealed and dealt with.  Also, 4 small target Stuart tanks and a 9-1 AL will be a constant source of harassment against the German force.  They are fast and difficult for the German armor to come to grips with but fragile against the German guns.  Don't forget they have cannister and multiple hits on doubles.

The Americans though will have a tough time trying to catch the mounted German infantry should they break through the frontline defense.  The German tanks will also severly limit movement of both the Stuarts and the American infantry.  And while the Stuart can flit in and out of German LOS, taking Boudning Fire shots, those 37LL guns will have a tough time getting a kill result against the German armor.

Balance:  55-45 Americans

The German player has plenty of options for his attack.  In my game with Dave, he choose to split his force in 2, attacking both on the right and left.  The advantage in this is that the Americans are forced to fight 2 battles with a loss in either one meaning they will likely lose the scenario.

In my game with Matt, he choose to attack with everyone on his right, planning on using the open ground of board 65 to achieve a breakthrough, laying a smoke screen to cover his half-tracks.

Neither plan worked.  In Dave's case, i was able to kill his 2 Mk4 tanks escorting his board 65 force, and his infantry had no chance of breaking through without armor support, while i KO'd his infantry on his board 64 force meaning he couldn't take buildings with that group.

Matt's attack was stymied due to his tankers not bringing smoke.  He was only able to lay 1 smoke marker down and my Stuart's were able to kill a Mk4, he recalled another due to a gun malf, and finally, he broke the Jagpanzer gun on an IF shot.  I was also able to kill another half-track with an MG shot.  Overall though, Matt had atrocious luck shooting.  He couldn't hit anything as the only casualties inflicted were the ATG crew whom he broke and FTR'd along with a single Stuart.  He never broke any other American unit.

While both games were easy American wins, i don't rate this scenario particularly pro-American.  Both Dave and Matt's plans were sound but bad luck on their part--Matt with not getting Smoke and Dave with having his tanks killed through front shots--played a key role.

One thing to remember is that the German tanks can gain control of single story stone building hexes.  There are a few on the board.  The German should set up his turn 5 movement to be able to move tanks into these buildings on turn 6 and stay in motion.  This can be a nasty surprise to the American player and for that reason, the German should not attempt to fix any MA malfs for fear of recall.

Overall, "Hell for the Holidays" delivers a very tense and challenging ASL experience with 2 great OB's.   This is something we've come to expect and enjoy from designer Pete Shelling.