Scenario Review – Martinville Ridge

Martinville Ridge is the second scenario in the “Breakthrough” campaign in Campaign Book 1, by brumbarr44, for Memoir ’44.  It’s a quick and nasty battle in which the Axis player has the resources to come back from almost any situation – just like a number of the Normandy scenarios from the first Campaign Book, actually.

On July 15, the 116th Regiment started a flanking maneuver around Martinville in an effort to outflank the town’s defenders. The lead elements made good progress but Allied Command didn’t have a clear picture of the situation on the ground and ordered the units to halt and consolidate their positions.

The order didn’t reach the 2nd Battalion in a timely fashion and by the time its commander got the order, the Battalion was already far ahead and overlooking the town of La Madeleine. Rather than call the unit back, General Gerhardt decided to keep the battalion there and try to reinforce it. On July 16 he ordered Major Bingham to hold his ground so he could move forces up to reinforce and hopefully push the Germans off the ridge at Martinville.

German command, unaware of the situation developing on the right, put a concentrated effort into gaining control of the Bayeux Road and the recently lost Hill 122 that overlooked it. The German XI Parachute Corps made a strong attack to seize the hill but was eventually repelled, largely because of American air cover. German command’s failure to recognize and capitalize on the opportunity to smash the isolated battalions of the 116th helped put to an early end to the fight for Saint-Lô.

The stage is set, the battle lines drawn, and you are in command. The rest is history.

Here’s my photo of the map.

Martinville Ridge

Perhaps the most interesting thing about this opening setup is the Allied infantry out by the Axis baseline.  This will most likely be the center of the opening engagement, as the Axis player rushes to stomp a vulnerable unit, while the Allied player rushes units forward to engage.

The Allied player has a distinct advantage in overall force composition, with more tanks and more infantry than the Axis player.  The Allied forces are also evenly spread across the map, allowing advances in any sector.  Any coherent advance by the Allied player will put them in the lead.

However, the Axis player also has some advantages.  The Axis force is composed entirely of special forces, making it incredibly dangerous.  On top of that, the map is only to 5 medals, and there is an Axis medal on the map that is fairly easy to take.  A quick counter-attack in the center can be enough to turn the game around entirely.  This map leads to fast battles in which a lucky Axis player is incredibly hard to stop.

This is exactly how both of our games went.  The Allied player moved fast and hard, and looked on track for an easy victory.  Then, the Axis player took a few shots, moved a few troops, and snatched a last-turn victory.

Overall Evaluation – 4/5 – This is a fun fight, but the endgame can turn into such a luck-driven see-saw that there’s a good chance one player will walk away feeling burned.

Balance Evaluation – Generally Even – From the position of force composition, the Allies should have the advantage, and a little bit of luck in the opening infantry engagement can put them in a pretty solid position to win.  However, the Axis player’s ability to turn things around on a dime prevents me from giving the Allies the edge on this one.  DoW Online has it at 60%/40% Allies, but I have to wonder if that is at least in part caused by unskilled Axis players who don’t know how to turn the situation to their advantage.

Plink-Fest Danger – None – Neither side has the force to accomplish much with long-distance fire.

First-Turn Win Possibility – None – Neither side can put together much of an attack in their first couple of turns.

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Scenario Review – Withdrawal from Hill 112 – With Video!

Withdrawal from Hill 112 is a Normandy scenario for Memoir ’44 from Campaign Book 1.  It’s the third scenario in the Flanking Caen mini-campaign.  All four of the Flanking Caen scenarios are interesting and reasonably balanced scenarios, pitting a slight Allied lead in overall forces against a very aggressive, and potentially lethal Axis force.  This scenario is interesting because of the limited mobility available to the Axis forces, balanced by their superior starting force position.

On June 29, Operation Epsom entered its fourth day. The British were holding onto a salient that incorporated high ground known as Hill 112 on the far side of the Odon River, near the village of Baron. The British 11th Armoured Division had a tentative hold and the Allies knew, thanks to intelligence reports, that the Germans were amassing armor for a counter-attack.

The German command made a preliminary push, sending the 9th and 10th SS Panzer Divisions and the 2nd SS ‘Das Reich’ into action along both sides of the Odon. Although the 11th Armoured Division was able to hold Hill 112, the British commander, Lieutenant-General Dempsey grew concerned about having his lead elements isolated on the far side of the river. He ordered them to withdraw back across the Odon, a decision that came back to haunt him when the Allies paid a heavy toll to reclaim the same ground nine days later.

Although Operation Epsom never quite achieved its original objective of flanking Caen, it did manage to draw the bulk of the German armor into the area which freed up the Americans on the right and opening the door for their break-out into hedgerow country.

The stage is set, the battle lines are drawn, and you are in command. The rest is history.

Though old, Campaign Book 1 is still available as an eBook, and I highly recommend it to any active Memoir 44 player.  However, that means it’s still considered classified at DoW.  So, here’s a bad photograph.

Withdrawl from Hill 112

The river dividing the map is pretty significant for the Axis.  Note that the bridge on the Axis side empties into a hedgerow, making it nearly useless for any sort of tactical reinforcement.  The Allies have it a bit easier, as their bridge is not only free from obstructions, but also protected from distant fire by a town.

Both sides are weak in the middle, and the action in this scenario is going to come down to the flanks.  The Axis have tank superiority, and with a good hand they can break the Allies on either side.  However, they need to be fast and consistent, because the Allies do have position in the center and greater flexibility.  Their bridge is open, and they can, in the right circumstances, move their tanks back and forth.  On the other hand, the Axis infantry in the center are almost entirely useless.  Should the Axis player take the time to move them up, it’s quite possible for the Allied player to make them pay by pressing an assault on either flank, or just plinking them from a distance.

On average, I think this map favors the Allied player, but a decisive Axis victory is a definite possibility.  We played this twice, switching sides, and the Allies won both times.  The first game turned into a last-turn nailbiter despite a mediocre Axis hand, while the second game was a brutal crushing of the Axis thanks to a complete lack of cards on their left flank.  DoW has this scenario at 60/40 Allies based on 148 reports.  I think that experienced players will even that up a little bit, but it definitely shows the advantage held by the Allies.

Overall Evaluation – 4/5 – This is a fun scenario with an interesting imbalance.  The Axis player will usually feel like they have a chance, because they do – even though, most of the time, the Allies will win it.

Balance Evaluation – Allied Favored – 60/40 is hard to argue with, and a mediocre hand will doom the Axis player every time.

First-Turn Win Possibility – Weak – The Axis can open up with a pretty devastating assault, but the strong Allied position makes it unlikely that this is a true knock-out blow.  That is, unless the Allies can’t follow up with anything stronger than a probe.

Plink-Fest Danger – Weak – The open space and the tanks turn this into a tank-brawl, and those don’t last very long.  Dice and cards will give one side or the other a quick advantage, and it’s all downhill from there.

Video – Unfortunately, the match we recorded was a somewhat boring smash-up of an immobile Axis side.  I just didn’t draw the cards to defend myself, and was broken on my own baseline.

Scenario Review – Ingermanland

Ingermanland is an odd little scenario from the Operation Barbarossa campaign in Campaign Book 1, for Memoir ’44.  Two weak forces duke it out in ugly terrain, and a single good move from either side can swing the battle in one direction or the other.  I quite like the scenario, but it has proven divisive.  My regular gaming partner hates it.

Outrunning its air cover, Kampfgruppe Raus pressed north from the newly captured town of Ostrov into the woods and swamps between the lakes Peipus and Il’men. Remnants of the Red Army and partisans in the woods, by now short of armored vehicles used other methods to harass the German advance. They employed snipers, minefields, abatis (trees bent, shaped, and cut to block roads and paths), and other obstacles to delay the Panzers’ advance. Isolated Russian KV-1 tanks roamed the woods threatening German supply lines, and then became giant metal pillboxes when they ran out of petrol. Von Leeb wrote in his diary that “the Russians defend every step.” The Kampfgruppe attempted to push through heavily defended woods to the north of Lake Samro in an effort to break out into open territory where their superiority in armor could impact the conflict.

Here’s a photo of the map.

Ingermanland

Note the three Russian snipers.  It’s that sort of map.  The Russians have an incredibly small and weak force, and they can’t really take many losses.  This is compounded by the fact that half the Russian backfield is an exit zone for the Germans.  On the other hand, the German force needs to hit in a concentrated fashion that is incredibly hard to do.

The Germans need to move up and either park tanks beside the snipers, or kill them outright.  If they get lucky and roll those grenades, the whole character of the map changes.  On the other hand, if the Russians can knock out the German artillery with sniper fire and maul the German infantry before it comes into attack range, then the game becomes very hard for the Germans. As Russians, I always had the feeling of impending doom.  If the German player has the cards, he or she can push hard in a single sector, and take advantage of the exit zone to get an unstoppable victory.  However, it’s bloody hard for the German player to actually pull that off.

I must admit that this map is rather controversial.  My regular gaming partner does not like it at all, and is convinced that it should be a Russian Turkey Shoot in most cases.  In his opinion, the Russian player needs only pull back, and mangle the Germans with long-range sniper fire.  To prove the point, he mopped the floor with my German army in our second test game last week, losing only a single unit in the process.  This, of course, was just after a nail-biter of a game in which I just barely held off his final advance on the Russian left flank.  I think it’s actually fairly well balanced, given competent play on both sides.  Days of Wonder Online supports neither of us, giving it a 43/57 split in favor of the Germans.  Try it out, and form your own opinion.

General Evaluation – 3/5 – This is too odd and too controversial to score any higher.  Players who love plodding plink-fests where neither side has good options (such as myself!) may love it, while other players may hate it.

Balance Evaluation – ? – As described above, I can’t find a consensus opinion on the matter.

First-Turn Win Possibility – None – Neither side has anything approaching the force to win a quick victory.

Plink-Fest Danger – High – If the battle becomes a close-quarters fight, the Germans have, in all likelihood, already won.

Scenario Review – Staraya Russa

Staraya Russa is an Eastern Front scenario from Campaign Book v. 1 for Memoir ’44.  It’s a Soviet counter-attack on German positions in the first year of the war, as the Germans were pushing towards Leningrad, and it’s interesting for several reasons.  First off, it’s incredibly balanced for an Operation Barbarossa scenario, and is interesting to play for both the Germans and the Russians.  Second, it’s a good example of a low-unit-count scenario, where neither side has an overwhelming force and must make real strategic decisions.  Third, it’s got a really good mix of open fields and forested cover, an just exactly the right number of tanks – one each.  Finally, it’s got Russian cavalry, and as I’ve said before, any scenario with cavalry is a ton of fun.

The Northwest Front, under the energetic Chief of Staff Vatutin, decided to attack the Axis forces south of Staraya Russa. It was hoped that this would divert Army Group North’s energies away from Leningrad. Indeed, von Leeb over-reacted to the Soviet attack and diverted elements of the LVI Panzer Corps to help stabilize the front. The LVI Panzer Corps met an attack made up largely of cavalry because the Soviets were increasingly reliant upon cavalry to provide mobility to their forces due to the rapid depletion of their tank forces.

Here’s my bad photo of the map.

Staraya Russa

Note the dug-in Germans on the Russian left flank, in front of the town with a victory medal.  In every game I’ve played, that has ended up the central engagement.  The Russians will move units forward into those forests to begin an assault, and the Germans will counter by moving up to flush them out.  On the Russian right flank, there is a much more favorable situation for the Russians, as only a few scattered German infantry protect the medal at the town of Staraya Russa.  However, the difficulties of moving standard infantry up that far tend to discourage the Russian player from choosing this route.  It’s far easier, and more fun, to dash up with the cavalry and go for the other town.

At first glance, it doesn’t look like the Germans have much of a chance, as the force balance is so heavily in favor of the Russians.  However, this is a 5 medal map, and in these situations the total force size matters a lot less than where the first engagement begins, and who brings what to the fight.  Furthermore, the Russian cavalry units sacrifice firepower for mobility, and as a result the Russian force is not quite as strong as it may seem – at least against dug in units.  A few lucky rolls either way, especially once the tanks come out to play, can rapidly shift this map in either direction.

Like a lot of the maps from the Operation Barbarossa campaign in the first campaign book, this is not a beginner map.  This is a map for canny veteran players, who know how to use their units and know how to avoid the obvious, yet stupid, move.  I had good memories of this map as soon as I looked at it yesterday, having played it at least 4 or 5 times last year, and my most recent play session validated them entirely.  This is a great map.

Overall Evaluation – 5/5 – This is a balanced, tense, and enjoyable map.

Balance Evaluation – Even – Despite first appearances, neither side has a massive advantage.

First-Turn win possibility – None – Neither side has units that are ready and able to deal a major first turn blow.

Plink-Fest Danger – None – There’s just no incentive to sit and plink at distance, as both sides have only the one tank.

Scenario Review – Moyland Wood

Moyland Wood is an official scenario for Memoir ’44 by the game’s creator, Richard Borg.  Set in Normandy, It’s a cracker of a map, and reliably offers an enormous brawl of mixed tanks and infantry right in the center of the map.  The Allies have a definite advantage, but it’s a fun battle with interesting decisions no matter what happens.

On the afternoon of the 16th the Royal Winnipeg Rifles supported by the 3rd Armor Battalion Scots Guards was ordered to take the hilly ground around Louisendorf. On its left the Regina Rifle Regiment with tank support was to clear the Moyland Wood.

The Winnipeg Rifles advance went well but the Regina Rifle Regiment ran into difficulties from the start. The wood had been reported clear but elements of 6th Parachute Division newly arrived from North Holland were deployed in a strong position along the fringe of the woods. As the Canadians moved to clear the wood, it was also shelled by German artillery. The failure to drive the Germans from Moyland Wood seriously delayed the 2nd Canadian Corps’ planned advance.

On the 19th, Battle Group Hauser and units from the 116th Panzer Division launched a counter attack. Throughout the night waves of Germans attacked the Allied infantry, as the Allied tanks had been withdrawn a few hours earlier to re-arm and re-fuel.

To recover lost ground, Brigadier Cabeldu ordered all uncommitted elements forward. Infantry and tanks moved out, preceded by a heavy barrage of artillery fire. The attack pushed the spent Germans back in less than two hours.

The stage is set, the battle lines are drawn, and you are in command. The rest is history.

Here’s the map.

Moyland Wood

The map is really divided into two major zones of engagement – the forest around Moyland, and the open area in front of Louisendorf.  Smart Allied players will try to move up tanks as quickly as possible so as to engage the numerically inferior Germans in the open center, and minimize losses near Moyland.  The Germans need to attack hard and fast in the center, knock out forward elements before the Canadians can move them to safety, and avoid the overwhelming counter-attack in the center which is always a looming possibility.  It’s always possible to pick up a medal or two near Moyland by pounding the Allied forces on the baseline, but unless the Canadians are pushed towards that sector by their cards, it’s more likely than not that better moves will be available in the center.

This map is a bit unusual in providing an opportunity for such a large brawl with fairly little preliminary movement on either side – that’s what makes it so fun.  It also has a more or less perfect artillery setup.  The German guns give them the ability to punish the Allies for being slow on the attack, but are in no way decisive given the huge forces that both sides can bring into the fray.

The Canadians have a definite numerical advantage, but need good cards to bring this into play.  The Germans are outnumbered but concentrated, and are in a good position to create localized fire superiority right at the beginning.  Both sides will suffer from a bad opening hand, and both sides will benefit from a hand full of assaults.  With over 400 battles played, Days of Wonder online has this at exactly 50/50.

This is a really, really good map.

Overall Evaluation – 5/5 – Few maps allow both sides to bring in so much infantry and armor all at once, and few maps are able to do so in such a balanced way.  Fun and interesting for both players.

Balance Evaluation –  Even – My gut tells me the Allies have the advantage just because of the forces available to them, but I know all too well how a bad opening hand can leave many of those units stranded near the baseline while isolated front-line infantry are mauled by a concentrated force.  Good cards will give the advantage to the Allies, but good cards are far from guaranteed.

First-Turn Win Possibility – Low – The Germans are in a position to damage some Allied infantry early, but only if they are left in place by the Allied player in his or her first turn.

Plink-Fest Danger – None – This is a battle that will be decided by massed tank and infantry combat, not long-distance shooting.

Scenario Review – Battle of the Bridgehead

Battle of the Bridgehead is an unofficial Normandy scenario for Memoir ’44 by forum poster brumbarr44.  I’ve played a few scenarios by him in the past, and they are usually solid.  This one features a few Canadian units versus the Hitler Youth and a SS panzer-grenadier element.  This is a fairly old scenario, and can be tough for a weak German player, but nevertheless provides an interesting battle for two players who know how to maneuver their tanks.

On D-Day +1 the Canadians sought to achieve their final D-Day objectives and push through to the airfields at Carpiquet.

Elements of the 9th Brigade consisting of the North Nova Scotia Highlanders and armour provided by the Sherbrooke Fusiliers advanced on Buron along the Buron-Authie axis toward Carpiquet. At Authie the Canadians ran into the first major German counter-attack against the allied bridgeheads.

The 12th SS Panzer Division consisted of HitlerJugend. Young, fanatical but inexperienced soldiers. They were however commanded by NCO’s who were hardened veterans of the Eastern campaigns. Among the lead elements was Standartenfurhrer (Colonel) Kurt Meyer and his 25th SS Panzer-Grenadier Regiment. Meyer’s orders were to strike at the beaches, his first task was to recapture Buron and Authie.

The Germans moved quickly on the unwary Canadians who had already lost men just in the taking of the villages. Casualties on both sides mounted as the North Novas proved to be a match for the HitlerJugend. The same cannot be said of the Sherbrooke Fusiliers whose out-gunned Shermans and green crews were not equal to Meyer’s skilled command. Nevertheless, many panzers were left burning on the field as well. Although the 9th Brigade pulled back to entrench the 25th SS was largely eliminated as an effective force.

The next day, elements of the 26th SS Panzer-Grenadier Regiment moved in on the 7th Brigade to the right of the 9th. Storming the beaches on D-Day left the 7th under-strength. The 26th SS although attacking piecemeal were able to force the Winnipeg Rifles into a difficult retreat. The Regina Rifles also found the enemy starting to show up in strength. Were it not for the timely arrival of tanks from the Sherbrooke Fusiliers, disaster would have surely ensued.

Kurt Meyer had out-fought the Canadians and the fierceness of his attack had left them uncommonly wary of tangling with SS units. Carpiquet, virtually in view of the lead Canadian elements, would not be reached for another month. Which was the next time that the Canadians saw major action.

Here’s the setup.

Bridgehead

First off, as this is a rather old scenario, it does not specify the use of Commonwealth Army rules for the Canadian forces in this battle.  I suppose that one could play with them, but that may have odd unintended consequences.  Then again, Stiff Upper Lip isn’t nearly as much of a game changer as is the Gung Ho ability of the US Marines, let alone the Banzai charge of the Japanese Army.

Note the 5 Canadian tanks on the field, to only 3 German tanks.  Combined with the wide open spaces, this gives the Allied player a significant advantage – IF he or she can get those two tanks out of the hedgerows in the right sector.

Also note that the battle is to 5 medals.  By the time the Allied player is closing in on the victory location at Carpiquet, the battle will be mostly over.

The hills and open spaces give both players a lot of room to maneuver around, leading to some interesting tactical decisions.  Infantry combat will fill out the medal rack for both players, but the real meat of this battle is going to be the tank duel.  In my opinion, the German player will need a little bit of tank luck for the battle to go his or her way, given the distinct firepower superiority the Allied player enjoys.  However, with a few lucky rolls the German player just might end up with the last tank on the board, especially if he or she can strike first, knock out an Allied tank right away, and take advantage of the hills for cover.

I rarely have the tank luck, so this isn’t the sort of map that I’ll ever fall in love with, but it’s not a bad map at all.

Overall Evaluation – 3/5 – The combination of open spaces, cover, fortified infantry, and mismatched armor makes for an interesting battle, but the potential for an Allied romp is high enough that I can’t rate this higher.  Less experienced players will also get slaughtered no matter who they play – there’s a lot of finesse to this one.

Balance Evaluation – Allied Favored – 5 tanks to 3 on a mostly open map is a pretty powerful advantage.  Days of Wonder Online has it at 51/49 Allies, which is a much tighter spread that I would expect.

First-Turn Win Possibility – Low – I suppose that if the Germans managed to knock out two Allied tanks on their first turn it might be hard for the Allied player to recover, but the chances of this happening are incredibly low.

Plink-Fest Danger – None – This is an open brawler map, and there is neither the right unit mix nor the right terrain for a plink-fest.