Saturday, May 17, 2014

Fireball Forward! - Ukraine 1941

Relatively spur of the moment, Leo and Ryan and I were able to get together for a game of Fireball Forward! last night. Ryan has been dying to play WW2, I loved FF! when Leo and I played it a couple of times last summer, and it had just been generally way too long since we had an actual game of any sort.

Leo had a scenario that he had created, which was adapted from one of the Skirmish books, and he would umpire while Ryan and I played. The scenario was a Russian counterattack against a German defense at a small village and stream crossing. Playing with an umpire is great because everything starts off the table out of sight and is only revealed when spotted (generally when it shoots). The Germans had a couple of infantry platoons, some company weapons assets, a 75mm infantry gun and a pair of 37mm AT guns. I (the Russians) had 4 infantry platoons (in two companies, each with a few company assets), a Kommissar (who proved to be a worthless fraud), and 7 tanks in 3 groups; a T28 (?) in a group by itself, and two groups of 3 BT7's each.

The battlefield ( a nice compact 3' by 4', which is typical for FF games - lots of great action in a small space...), looking at the first picture from the Russian edge, had a cluster of buildings on either side of a stream in the distance. A road went up the middle, with a plowed beet field on the left and a swampy area on the right. The wheat colored rectangle at middle left is a field of high crops which would prove to be the hinge point of the game.

Turn 1 - Russians can opt to bring their infantry on in trucks, which I chose not to do. That would mean an open ground ride right up the middle, and I envisioned a lot of burning trucks and dead guys. I elected for a broad front advance, mostly avoiding the swampy area on my right flank. I should have been more aggressive with my one good tank, which cautiously inched onto the board (and ended up bringing up the rear of my turn 1 advance). The crappy little BT7's advance bravely. And died bravely. The first one got lit up by a flank shot from a 37mm ATG in the swamp. The second one went to face the ATG and died soon after. The second came on and fared little better, with one getting knocked out and another immediately panicking and fleeing the field. I needed to occupy buildings to win, which tanks cannot do, but I had hoped that they would be a little more...less dead less quickly.
Mostly through Turn 1

Turn 2 - As can be seen in the mid-turn picture below, the Russian infantry are advancing through the beet field (bottom of pic) while all the BT7's are either dead of have fled (4 dead, 2 panicked and gone). German infantry (machine guns) have exposed themselves by shooting out of the wheat field, tying up my infantry in the center. 5 out of my 6 infantry units are either on the road or left of it. The one remaining infantry platoon near the swamp will try to take out the 37mm ATG.
During Turn 2

Turn 3 - The last Russian tank (the good one) dies, my armored force having done nothing of consequence, other than to hold the attention of the 3 German guns. The Russian platoon in the swamp got into melee with the ATG and a supporting German infantry platoon, and that series of combats lasted the rest of the game, with the heroic gun crew beating back wave after wave of Russians. As it turns out though, the German infantry would have been better served moving to support the buildings in the center once the tanks were gone. The ATGs had served their purpose and could be left to die.
During Turn 3

Turns 3 and 4 saw a concerted effort by Russian infantry to advance in force through the wheat field, around its flank, and up the road if possible. I was able to run the gauntlet with one squad into the center building near the road, and worked my way around the one behind the flank of the wheat field. I was taking some casualties, but was also inflicting some and slowly clearing out the wheat field itself and chipping away at their supporting units.
During Turn 4

Turn 4 - The Germans were thinned out enough that I was able to use numbers to tie up the remaining Germans while a squad ran across the stream and into the building on the other side (2 victory points). At that point, I had the 4 victory points I would need to win the game after 5 turns (2 VPs for a building on the far side of the stream, and 1 each for two buildings on the near side). A last ditch German counterattack near the end of turn 4 to try to oust me from a building failed, and it was agreed that there was no way the few remaining Germans near the buildings I occupied would be able to push me out.
After Turn 4 (game effectively over)

It was a great game, and a good learning exercise for Ryan and I. We both made some mistakes, and both did some good things. We have a lot to learn about the rules, but that's the fun part. Our dice rolling seemed very particular on both sides. Ryan didn't shoot very well, except when shooting at tanks (which was great), and his morale rolls seemed good when testing under fire, but atrocious when trying to get his troops to enter a melee. On the other side, my firing was pretty good, my morale to enter combats was good, my rallying was OK, but I couldn't pass a morale check when fired on to save my life. It seemed like any time Ryan succeeded in hitting me with a shot, I broke. When in melees themselves, no matter how advantageous the combat for me, I would roll whatever I needed to remain locked in melee until the next turn. Among other things, it is these dice rolling patterns that develop during a game that makes games fun (what?! again?! really?!).

A few observations:

  • I love this game system and can't wait to play more. It is fantastic with a referee.
  • This is the first time we had a game of this with vehicles, and it showed. Ryan on the other hand had never played the system at all but did fine.
  • Russians are frustrating in their rigidity. Units activate by random card draws. Unlike the Germans (and the Americans when we played them) who get to choose which unit to activate when one of their cards comes up, the Russians have to splay the specific unit noted on the card. Getting things to occur in the sequence you would hope they would is almost impossible. But the Russians had notorious command issues early on in the war especially, so this felt right.

While the excitement of last night's game is fresh in my mind, I suspect that Paint Table Saturday today will revolve around taking stock of my modest WW2 collection, identifying needs, maybe a little painting and almost certainly some basing of existing infantry, which I am partway through. And maybe a side trip to a shop nearby that stocks the Flames of War miniatures range to pick up a few things...

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