Thursday, September 9, 2010

Battle report - rise of "smoke spam"

More plans wrecked by smoke rounds...

Last night Dallas hosted a game of Spearhead. The scenario set during the early days of the Battle of the Bulge, Hitler's last major counter-offensive in the war, and the fighting around St. Vith. I played the US side - a combat command that included a rifle battalion, some Shermans, some M-10 tank destroyers and a company of 57mm ATGs.

Dallas, later joined by Cam, took control of the German side, which featured three battalions - one panzer battalion loaded down with Panthers, and two foot-slogging Grenadier battalions.

The scenario was fairly straight forward. The German goal was to get through the US force. They could win two ways - by routing the US force prior to turn six, or exiting more than half of the Panzer battalion off the opposite table edge by turn 12. For fun I used a house rule to simulate the "on-fumes" state of the Panzers' fuel tanks - each turn Dallas would roll 2d6, and on an 11 or 12, one platoon would run out of gas and grind to a halt.

Well, the US gave a good fight. In particular, we really pasted Cam's grenadier battalion. That did little to halt the tide of Panthers, which rolled majestically over our infantry while the fire of the Shermans and 57mm ATGs pinged harmlessly off their armour. Dallas used the German off-table fire missions to deploy smoke screens at important times, which was really, really irritating.

My US lads held past turn six, compelling the Panzers to dash for the breakthrough. Sadly, I had few platoons left that could take advantage of the exposed flank and rear aspects of the Panthers. Spearhead's target priority rules also ensured that my infantry were tangled with the opposing German infantry, and the Panthers rolled right past them, leaving the Germans with a narrow but nonetheless definitive win, particularly as I failed a morale roll for the combat command.

Here are some pictures of the game. Note the carelessly exposed deployment of my tank destroyers. I'm sure the crews would condemn me for that, had any of them survived...

A cheesey smoke barrage obscures the German advance

Sherman tanks await the rare opportunity to take a flank shot at the enemy tanks

Q - do riverbanks provide good cover? A - NO

German armour rolls across the shallow creek

My very small collection of German armour in winter camo smashes its way through the infantry line

Cam's grenadier battalion got chewed up by artillery and a particularly stubborn platoon of M-20 armoured cars (seen on the far side of the creek)- none of which really helped me win, but at least we lit up somebody...

A picture of the desperate US defenders

The game was a lot of fun. The scenario was very simple, and there was not a ton of different types of units involved, which helped cut down on the headaches. Dallas and Cam did a good job breaking the US defence, balancing the need for speed while trying to ensure the troops could shoot back. In particular, Cam reorganized his attack away from a "one-at-time" approach (which worked great for my defenders) to an "all-at-once" (which sucked for my hapless guys).

I love Spearhead, because the game represents a confrontation between plans as much as dice-rolling and different stat sheets. Much depends on your plan, and your initial deployment, as it is not quick to move stuff around the table if you are caught out. Compared to the goofed-out, endless-special-rules impaired world of the byzantine power-creeping codices that dominate 40k, Spearhead is pure wargaming joy.

Dallas really played the Germans well, rushing straight ahead, conscious of the ticking clock. His plan spread out the attack enough to keep me busy, while still ensuring the panzers punched hard, and had infantry support when it counted. Only one tank platoon ran out of gas (dammit!) but the roll each turn added a nice little sense of "uh-oh". On the American side, you got a good feel for the hopeless defence - infantry just waiting in the trenches while the German treads ground towards them....yikes!

Thanks to Dallas for hosting, and to Cam and Brian for coming out.


Curt said...

Looks like fun! Sprearhead is still one of those truly uniquely clever game systems. you are right, the target priority system and order-writing is the heart of it all.

Dallas said...

Awesome game, Greg - thanks again for rolling it out. "Smoke spam" indeed... I think I popped more smoke in that game than I have done in my last 5 years of gaming combined... guess I'm good for another 5 years ;-)