Saturday, 22 December 2018

Big Game Hunting, 1944

Another dreary drought in posts. I blame all the usual suspects, with work, business trips, and general life shittery all leading to great difficulty in finding any slot when were all available at the same time for a game. 

I did find time for a bit of painting here and there, along with the usual acquisition of new books and toys.  But without the spur of a game to get ready for, nothing really to show for it.

Anyway, the gaming drought eventually came to an end, so on the last Sunday of November Giovanni and I had our first game of the Lardies' What a Tanker!  Now that my winter vacation has started, I've some time for getting caught up.
We originally intended to do a Napoleonic game using Black Powder, but we were both of us feeling a bit burnt out from work and from irritating- yet persistent- everyday life issues. Instead, we decided that we would be happy just to settle for a game that didn't require a lot of setting up, was simple, and which would allow us to shoot the breeze a fair amount as we hadn't seen much of each other for a while.

And with just two tanks each, WaT was just the thing.
In the end I decided that using my  IS-2 and ISU-152 would probably be overkill.
To keep things simple, we decided to go with two identical tanks on each side. Giovanni opted for two Panther D's, while I settled on two T-34/85's.

In game terms der grossen Kats have an armour rating of 8 and a strike of 9, while the T-34/85 has armour 8 and a strike of 8. Additionally both tanks are considered fast, so are able to convert any one extra die into an additional "one", a movement die. So to all intents and purposes, the two types are pretty much equal counterparts.

We played the angled scenario, with each side coming in from opposing corners of the table. 

The table itself was set somewhere in Russia, so was covered with road crossing a river, woods, some hills that and copses that would block line of sight, and a few buildings.

I also had, for the first time on the table, the Red October Cement Works (Красный Октябрь Цементный завод)
This started life as a simple dice tower that I had made from foamboard, using a set of plans I found online. Eventually, I decided to use it as the basis for a functional terrain piece, integrating the old Airfix control tower. It's not finished, but I wanted to use it to see how practical it was in terms of size and convenience. 

Fortunately, it passed the Politburo's strict zoning regulations comfortably. 

For a long time I had been waiting on trying to source some fine scale corrugated material for use as the factory roofing. It turns out Giovanni has some plastic sheet from an architectural model shop, so that hurdle has now been overcome.

To the game; some tentative initial maneuvering resulted in a few missed shots from both sides.

Suddenly I saw an opportunity to I send one of my T-34s on a flanking march around a large hill to try to knock out one of Giovanni's Panthers from the rear.

This looked promising.
Unfortunately, I then hit a dry spell where I was making a series of completely useless die rolls- never in the history of miniatures gaming have so many 5's been rolled to so little effect. A roll of five allows the player to reload; well, I must've had every round in the tank chambered up that gun barrel. But I couldn't move very far, and didn't have the dice needed to acquire or aim on my target, let alone fire on it.

Of course, Giovanni's Panther managed to roll a cascade of 1's and 6's, thus allowing him to do basically whatever he wanted; namely to climb the hill and attack my hapless Russki broadside
Kat food: scratch one T-34.

"Aw, Crap! Commisar Putin will be really pissed off over this!- BIGLY"

Any smug Teutonic smirk was soon wiped off blond Aryan mugs when my remaining tank, now outnumbered two to one and facing a developing pincer movement, finally saw me roll a (rare) fistful of sixes in the command phase.

I was able to dart out from around the corner of a farm building and snap off a quick shot at the frontal armour of the previously victorious Panther. My luck held and I followed up with a great strike roll, more than half being 5's and- more importantly- 6's (critical hits).
Stalin's Kan Opener
He failed miserably at saving any of them. As its ammo cooked off, the Panther was duly sent to Valhalla and it's crew incinerated in a ball of super-heated flame. 

Honours now even.

The rest of the game saw the remaining two tanks basically going around a farm in circles, as they chased each other's butts trying to get in what were proving to be very elusive killing blows.
"I wasn't born yesterday, Fritz.."
On a number of occasions both of us did maneuver so that the enemy's rear was dead in our sights, only to find that we couldn't muster the dice needed to allow us to set up a shot. In the rare instances when either of us actually did manage to get a round off, it would invariably end up flying uselessly off target.
You two get a room...
Ringskis around the Roseskis
On one tantalizing occasion I did get in a significant hit, one that inflicted some permanent damage. A lucky shot knocked out his optics, meaning that from that point on not only he was he down -1 to hit, but also that he would be rolling only four, instead of five, command dice.
This was a real blow, but I wasn't ever able to really capitalize on it (although it saved my shell-shocked Socialist skin on at least two subsequent occasions).

So on balance the Russian side did more damage than what it received. However with time running out, we decided that both vehicles were running out of fuel, ammo and above all, patience. The respective commanders felt it was high time to call it a day. 

Until we meet again, Fascist swine.

Overall impressions: I liked the game, but can't quite yet say I -love- it. It has some interesting mechanisms, and certainly provided many moments of tense excitement; I do like the fact that it's not bogged down in rivet-counting detail.

Although the rules themselves are very simple and very well laid out, in some respects I felt we were probably getting it wrong; I need to go back and read them over again.

The issues I had with the game were that most of it had been spent with the two remaining tanks busily- and quite ineffectually- chasing each other's tails, while we looked down with dismay and frustration on a series of useless combinations of command die rolls. Fog of war is one thing, but being totally at the mercy of capricious Fate is another.

Tolstoy would have loved it.

Perhaps this was in part because as we were both fast tanks, we were able to convert one additional die to movement on top of any 1's that were rolled. This kept allowing us to shake off acquisition, but we both found it was then incredibly difficult getting the combination of dice that would allow us to reacquire, aim, and actually shoot at the target. 

This was really tough for Giovanni's Panther when it was down from rolling five to four command dice, but he was coming up with more than his fair share of boxcars, allowing him some good shots- only to see him then fail his "to hit" rolls with a series of disgracefully (and quite mathematically unlikely) poor throws.

Much to my relief, as I was rolling multiple fours and fives to beat the band.

Or perhaps we had just got something wrong; it was our first time with the rules, after all. Nevertheless it's a good game, and felt a bit like a simplified Saga for WWII. But very much depends on the whims of the Dice Gods; not necessarily a bad thing, but YMMV.

The only other thing has nothing to do with the rules, but with our own housekeeping habits in a game like this. We both really needed to keep the dashboards up-to-date and tidy, as we frequently forgot to update them and/or would accidentally move the markers around in the heat of combat. That was one of the issues I had with playing Saga.

But it was great to be able to dust off my Soviets again.  And overall, and based on this one experience, I would say yes, it's a game worth playing. Despite the aforementioned frustrations it was certainly engaging.

I'm not sure if I'd want a steady diet of it, but we do want to try it again, maybe with less powerful tanks. 

Something set in the early North African campaign, with such armoured leviathans as the British A-10 cruiser and Italian M-13/40, might be fun.

The good news is that with the holiday here, Matt and I have a game coming up during the New Year's vacation. This time it will be back to Napoleonics and BP; he has some ungrateful Brunswickers in desperate need of just chastisement from the Emperor.

And of course, Happy Holidays, everyone.