Demo at MMFW

Karl and Chris face off in a small scenario called “American Patrol”. I set out the counters and let them ask questions.

In hindsight I should have played against them both, hotseating between games. One of the difficulties of playing in a museum is that there are a lot of fascinating artifacts literally within arm’s reach that are catnip to chatty people like me.

I’m glad to have selected Band of Brothers to provide the base rules for the system. Both Karl and Chris were able to pick up concepts like LOS, movement costs, and fire attacks with a simple, verbal instruction. I don’t think Karl ever looked at the player aid card. This has less to do with the indifferent brevity of my explanations and more to do with the staying power of the base system designer Jim Krohn’s simple, enabling design decisions.

The experience inspired me to organize a starter set, a smaller footprint, print-and-play version of FTGU. Over the next month I’ll organize the four learning scenarios and a reduced counter set into four ledger-sized pages.

Demo at Military Museum of Fort Worth, 15 January, 1200 hours

Current exhibit (ends April 2017)

I’ll be there with the director of the museum. I’ll do a quick presentation of the game and we’ll get right to it. Depending on the number of people who show, I may run a short tournament with the prize being a complete set of playtest counters to the winner. We’ll play BEAU0 and SEV0, two all-infantry learning scenarios which take place on an excerpt from the Beau Coudray and Sèves maps. When I get a moment, I’ll put this together as a PnP sampler of the whole module. Anyway, hope to see you there!

A note about the Military Museum of Fort Worth. Tyler Alberts’s labor of love in honor of his grandfather is unbelievably well curated. Really a jewel of a museum and where I’ve done the lion’s share of my research. Tyler has unbelievably precise knowledge of individual veterans in addition to an excellent and deep understanding of 90ID’s actions from Normandy until the end of the war. He is especially good with the social history of the artefacts in his displays. If you want to know where the laundry number in a 1942-issue U.S. musette bag can be found, Tyler is you man. He can probably even track down the original owner. Even if your questions aren’t about 90ID, if you have a question about the experience of the citizen-soldier in the Second World War you would be hard pressed to find a more accessible and knowledgeable source.

Small is Beautiful

US sets up within two hexes of crossroads.
US sets up within two hexes of crossroads.

I intend to write a small, learning scenario for each map. Here’s my entry for Beau Coudray. Call it “American Patrol“. This is a completely theoretical action, but something like it probably occurred. While waiting for the inevitable German counter attack, a US patrol is sent out to locate an enemy position hampering the progress of the adjacent company.

Meant as an easy tool to learn the basic flow of a Band of Brothers turn and familiarize the players with the terrain, here the US player will have to intelligently maneuver around any trap the German might set, as well as play through the intervisibility requirement set upon US second line units. This is completely untested. So now is your chance.

I will be up on the VASSAL server at 2000 hours, GMT this evening (5 November). You have only to install the program (vassal.org) and download the FTGU module here.

Scenario Design, Armored Feint, finis

So, after another play through I added a 2nd line MG42 team to the German setup pool, mostly because it was a very likely historical deployment. I’ve played through this three times now and I don’t see anything else obvious to take care of. Slowly, I’m learning not to overwork scenario designs, as different playstyles are essential for new perspectives.

I’ve tried full, medium, and minimal initial draws for the Germans. Each present different challenges for the US force. There is some advantage in feeding the fight as it develops and choosing the lane for your reinforcements. But, heck, it’s possible I’m overlooking something.

Beginning, Turn 5, third test. Weak initial draw. GER runs a tank down US right, but too late. On GER right, reduced paratroop squad menaces a PzF shot. Germans ahead by 3VP.
Beginning, Turn 5, third test. Weak initial draw. GER runs a tank down US right, but too late. On GER right, reduced paratroop squad menaces a PzF shot. Germans ahead by 3VP.

I like how the tank-infantry coordination rule cleaned up. Its easier to remember and makes for some interesting maneuver problems. Was gratified to find the Turreted Vehicles rule I wrote didn’t require refining. I’d forgotten whether I’d reduced firepower for tanks which do not change their facing to target. A vehicle counter with a turret ring may engage targets to its sides and flanks without changing orientation but suffers -2 to its firepower. While I respect the logic of the basic game, new terrain in FTGU cries out for some nuance here. I think mine is an acceptable compromise. All the counters in the module are marked accordingly.

Now I leave it up to you. Comment here or email me should you be interested in testing this or other parts of the module. Unfortunately, I can’t offer a physical playtest kit, but one can be printed (complete with counters) at reasonable cost. However, I’ll be updating the VASSAL module in the next few days and, of course, it will be available for free.

Here’s the finished (for now) product.

Armored Feint, Scenario Design Part VIII

Turn 2, end. German has made a single initial unit draw with two more reinforcement draws. He is ahead by 7VP.
Turn 2, end. German has made a single initial unit draw with two more reinforcement draws. He is ahead by 7VP.

Hot washup after a few play throughs:

A. System Rule Change:

After a phase in which a vehicle moves or fires, no infantry or WT may move;

Will become:

Either tanks or infantry may move in the same player activation, but not both.

The original rule allows an unrealistic level of coordination. And I have evidence that 90ID did not undergo tank-infantry team training until the seizure of Gorges, just before their action at Sèves.

B. Scenario Changes

  1. The Mk IV, artillery mission, and elite infantry can only be drawn as reinforcements. A German player may opt to begin with no VP differential and have his complete force. Of course, this will mean less uncertainty for the US, who will only have to find a few real units and kill them to win. This may favor the German too strongly; this is a question for playtester.
  2. The US player gains 5 VP for each unoccupied building at the end of turn 5. This places a premium on pressuring the US flanks as well as making reinforcement draws potentially costly.
  3. German player must decide how many counters to draw before looking at any of them. While I like the granularity of looking at each as it’s drawn, I’m going to shelve the idea for another scenario. Germans are already sufficiently advantaged by the steep terrain and bocage.

C. Remaining Design/Balance Challenges
(Keeping in mind, on the historicity-balance spectrum, the former is more important to me.)

  1. The 105 artillery mission is potentially unbalancing, although its eventuality is somewhat ameliorated by having the players switch sides after turn 5. In Normandy, the Germans typically fired artillery in battalion, rather than battery missions to avoid the very good US counterbattery fire. I feel like I have to include at least its possibility, as this, and the advancing darkness, brought the US mission to a close. Additionally, it would be a relatively economical means to responding to a threat on a crossroads, which were likely preregistered. Very easy to imagine the German regimental commander (1050/77) dedicating a mission to disrupt a potential attack upon report of US armor.
  2. US forces. I’ve considered adding a fourth, first-line, reduced, US squad. My standard for FTGU’s cartography and rules is to try and get at least one standard deviation within history. The reason why I responded to BoB’s base design is that it seems to acknowledge that successful designs understand these limitations and doesn’t go chasing rabbits into a warren of special rules for special circumstances. Middleton is very explicit in his account that it was three teams of five men who attacked the crossroads. He specifies that it was the first sergeant who led the attack. It seems safe to assume that the 1SGT chose his men from the best remaining in the company, which was at least 30% understrength. Middleton is extremely detail oriented with a good memory, just like an excellent NCO. (Four years later, he can list exactly how much ammo he was carrying, certainly the product of a precisely calibrated order.) In short, it is easy to imagine he was one of the best soldiers in his company. Adding another maneuver element to counteract the increased difficulty of the terrain certainly seems within keeping to the one-deviation limit.

 

Armored Feint, Scenario Design, Part VII

capture
Turn 2 opens with a nice US play on the German right.

I’m not going to do a blow-by-blow of this test, but I wanted to illustrate a few of the modifications I’ve made in the BoB base system for From the Ground Up.

Here, the US begins with his infantry movement. He makes his activation roll, takes a big risk, moving D4 past the dummy at G6 and H6. (Easy to do when you are soloing and you know they are dummies!) The German, hoping to withdraw yet again, holds fire. He then loses concealment due to being adjacent. Since all FTGU scenario assume use of the flank rules, the German is obliged to select an orientation, turning the unit to vertex 1 to cancel the eventual FP bonus the Assault firing US unit would otherwise enjoy. US fire causes a level of suppression. The German isn’t sweating this yet, as he plans to make a declared withdraw during his phase.

The US moves a squad out of E3, through the orchard and along the bocage. He is now in the German flank. The German would still rather withdraw as his shot (should he make his proficiency roll) would change his orientation. It goes without saying that there are also tanks nearby and it would be nice to get in a panzerfaust shot, however unlikely that may be. So the US moves adjacent and stops. Both sides now enjoy the bocage bonus, although they are adjacent. The US assault fire does not result in increased suppression but it does cause placement of a flanked marker, which in FTGU is the result of fire attacks from non-adjacent hexsides (side 2 and 6) conducted over consecutive impulses. The German, at this point, is stuck with a -1 morale for being flanked, counted against his yellow morale of 5. He has an 80% chance of being able to withdraw from this position (yellow morale 5; + 4 declared withdrawal; -1 flanked).

The tank in D6 flips to its nonmoving side, fires, increasing the German’s suppression level to red, thus halving his chances of making a successful withdrawal.

My draft rule for tank-infantry coordination prohibited vehicle and foot movement in the same phase. I backed off, opting instead obliging that a turn end upon vehicle activation. The rule needs a bit more testing. Honestly, I feel a bit bad about the ease with which this play came together and wonder if the more janky rhythm imposed by the original rule wouldn’t better serve. A situation where it wouldn’t be more advisable to move your infantry first is difficult to imagine. But so far, the running and gunning seems to square with Middleton’s account.

I’ll play through a few more turn before posting again. My instinct is that the Germans might want to spend a VP or two to make draws from the reinforcement pool in hopes of coming up with the Mark IV. I think, also, for historical reasons, I’m going to include an artillery battery in the pool.

Armored Feint, Scenario Design, Part VI

capture
End of Turn 1. US find a nice position to overwatch his advance all the way to an objective. It is also inadvertently in the field of fire of a PaK40.

Just a few days before, 712 tk bn’s S3 journal notes that “tank infantry coordination is totally different” meaning that it was lacking. Accordingly, the US cannot use armored advance, which is a module-specific rule based on JK’s halftrack rules. Bold play revealed a real unit and a dummy. The real unit was in the orchard (woods) now occupied by the Sherman on the left. He wisely held fire and bugged out (under the H concealment counter).

At the turn’s end, the US enjoys an excellent overwatch position, but is also exposed to the AT gun dug in on the road. Note that the gun was not revealed as it occupies concealing terrain (Norman Roads). Even if the brown ditch depiction weren’t present it would still enjoy a three-level height advantage. It would be nice if the US decided to commit to this corridor, maybe put a second tank into it. I’ve already decided it makes sense to swing the infantry behind that bocage to see what they can see while they enjoy overwatch fire from the tanks.

It is difficult to appreciate how much an effect bocage has on lateral fires until you are actually walking the terrain. With respect to the historical action, this axis of advance is more oblique to the ridge line and is thus steeper, making it much harder going for the infantry. The fields are also narrower. Which, as you can see above, works both ways so long as you have highly mobile supporting fires.

Armored Feint, Scenario Design, Part V

Initial draw. Playtest counters look pretty sharp, no? No? Okay.
Initial draw. Playtest counters look pretty sharp, no? No? Okay.
Forces

Middleton writes the dismounted element consisted of fifteen men. He also mentions (and draws) three tanks. 712 tk bn’s S3 journal confirms a detachment to 357IR. (They also mention the loss of two tracks on the previous day. Where this fire came from is not immediately evident.)

I decided to change the squads to all first-line and casualty reduce them to show the fragility of fire-team sized elements. As far as enemy forces are concerned, I only know that the attack initially took small arms fire and that the tanks withdrew under artillery (or mortar) fire. I know that 15FJR was active in the adjacent regiment’s sector, so it is unlikely that they would be committed to the line. I’ll include them as a possible reinforcement.

Another designer might look at Middleton’s writing and say “There isn’t a scenario here.” No WW2 game design I can think of has perfect (or even good) information about the orders of battle, much less positions. This goes especially for tactical level designs. You can only drill down so far. German records either do not exist or remain uncataloged.

Spreadsheet
Spreadsheet with quick and dirty scenario draft.
Time

I think this should be a short scenario. Barth’s account says the tanks withdrew under artillery fire whereas Middleton makes no mention of it, claiming they withdrew because it was dark. We know the attack started at around 1430. The sun sets quite late at 47 degrees north latitude in July, say around 2230. There’s no way the tanks would want to drive around during nautical twilight, so let’s say five hours. My rule of thumb for FTGU is that one turn represents anything from a few minutes to an hour. I want quick play and few units and, to ameliorate the random force draw, a replay with the players switching sides.

Starting positions for first test. Germans have made a lot of draws and have 3 VP from a starting total of 10.
Starting positions for first test. Germans have made a lot of draws and have 3 VP from a starting total of 10. Remember woods are as orchards and are trafficable by vehicles.
Victory Conditions

My supposition is that the US battalion commander wants to extract two companies in distress. The scenario represents a feint presumably designed to force the Germans to commit to committing reserves to protect a junction which they have been using to reinforce their efforts to envelop the beleaguered US companies. The German wants to continue the reduction of I and L companies unhindered, as well as preserve freedom of movement on the left flank. He needs to commit the smallest force necessary in order to impede the US’s attempted relief.

Historically, I’m not sure the US action achieved its mission. The German regimental commander seems to have been content to dare the US armor to advance into more closed terrain, opting instead to bring indirect fire to cover subsequent night operations. Also, on this date in the adjacent sector, US 712 tk bn was putting heavy pressure on another mission to relieve isolated infantry units and suffered accordingly.

In game terms, the German will make random draws from a pool composed of some clapped out squads, remnants of 77th Infantry, a light antitank gun, and a lot of decoys. Each draw will deduct from his starting VP total, to be determined. I want the first phase to be a ginger shell game, with points scored for enemy losses on both sides. This should result in a reconnaissance by fire all the way to the road.

Armored Feint, Scenario Design, Part IV

A little more on the situation 7-8 July. Companies I and L had become isolated on the reverse (n) slope behind Le Plessis. On 8 July, an attempt was organized to relieve them. The attack, however, was never made. Middleton is no help here, as he was just a private.

Writes COL Barth, CO 357IR:

“On 6 July at 0800 C Co. advanced, and by 0930 had crossed the blacktop road west of Beau Coudray. B Co. failed to advance and it was determined that the heavy losses during its repulse of the night before had left it disorganized. [n.b. Middleton describes this failed attack]. While reorganization was in progress orders were issued for the 3rd Bn. to advance south with I and L Cos abreast in the gap between a and C Cos. At this time the fact that A Co. had retired to the north from its previously reported position 200 yards northwest of the Bau Coudray crossroads was not known to me. As a result, when the two companies of the 3rd B. advance their left flank was exposed. This latter proved disastrous as it allowed the Germans to envelop the exposed (east) flank of the 3rd Bn. By 1100 c Co. had fought its way to the blacktop. K Co. was then attached to the 1st Bn. and A Co. to the 3rd Bn., and the 3rd Bn. ordered forward on the left of the 1st Bn.

“At 2315 C Co. was violently counterattacked by infantry and five tanks (estimated) and broke along with K Co. that was moving up on its left. The two companies became intermingled and were finally stopped and reorganized by Capt. Woodrow Allen [Woody Allen?!] about 300 yards north of the blacktop….

Here is the situation:

capture2
Map drawn by Ely superimposed on 1947 IGN aerial photo showing the initial advance, the German counterattack, and the nighttime repulse of C coy.

The next day, B coy is ordered to attack to relieve the pressure on I and L coys. I believe that Middleton’s account was of a feint preliminary to the rest of his company’s maneuver mounted to facilitate their effort to link up with I and L coys. Middleton explicitly mentions moving through C coy’s positions just up from the creek bottom. Here is COL Barth again:

“B Co.’s attack go under way at 0930 [n.b. Middleton is explicit about his attack taking place in the afternoon] and progressed to a point one hedgerow north of the town by 1130. [At this point, they must have been only about 150 yards away from I and L coy’s last reported positions.] It suffered heavy casualties and was continuously engaged for several hours. At 1450 it was attacked in the flank from the west, but with the assistance of tanks it held its ground. At 1545 a heavy artillery concentration fell in the position and the supporting tanks withdrew.”

Of note from a scenario design standpoint, the Germans have either already withdrawn 77th Infantry or 15FJR is acting as a fire brigade. I’m a little bit mystified as to which unit provided the armor present there, but I remember anecdotes mentioning Mark IVs (a tale of a bazooka kill on the central street of the village). I don’t want to belabor the research phase of this design any further. Most of my German unit information comes from Niklas Zetterling’s indispensable handlist, Normandy 1944.

COL Barth repeatedly refers to the road as “blacktop” but I think he was simply referring to the AMS map, which is agnostic on the subject. The high reflectance found in the 1947 aerial photo lead me to conclude this was a dirt road and I’ve depicted it as such. (It is nothing like the wide Argentan road found at St. Leonard in any case.)

So, the scenario will depict the actions of a small tank-infantry force making a feint on the La Stelle road junction. Unfortunately, the map dimensions oblige me to cheat on the actual terrain. I think a satisfying situation can be invented, nevertheless.

Armored Feint, Scenario Design, Part III

The game map doesn't depict the actual terrain over which the attack took place.
The game map doesn’t depict the actual terrain over which the attack took place. (Orange arrow is the notional axis of advance; the blue is the historical one). So the scenario will be moved about 250 yards to the east. North to left in all images.
Here's the aerial photo from which the map was drawn.
Here’s the aerial photo from which the map was drawn.
Scenario map
The game map of the same area. As there is no breach like the one shown in Middleton’s map, a scenario specific rule is in order. Thus all woods hexes become orchard, which will permit the tanks to maneuver.
The long, open rising corridors along the real route of attack.
The long, open rising corridors along the real route of attack, vic. 2-3 hex rows west of the map end. Indicative of the steady rise out of the creek bottom toward the intersection on the Lithaire road. Brendan Clark is walking SSE.