Tag Archives: strategy

Scenario Review – Battle of Gela

Battle of Gela is an Operation Husky scenario for Memoir 44 by jdrommel which focuses on the early stages of the landings in Sicily.  It’s an unusual map because it features an Axis force attacking an Allied force which has already occupied the beaches.  The setup gives the Italian forces a chance, but as in reality, the balance was distinctly in the favor of the Allies.

On the 10th of July 1943, during operation Husky (Allied landing in Sicily), the harbour of Gela was captured by US Rangers units while the 1st US Infantry Division (the Big Red One) landed on the beaches around the city. Axis reacted quickly and Italian general Guzzoni sent at once troops against the US beach head. At 09h00, the Italian Mobile Group “E”, equipped with French R-35 tanks, made a counter-attack against landed troops,followed by infantrymen of the “Livorno” division. The Italian attack was a menace for the US supplies depots created on the landing beaches and in the harbour. The battle was fierce all the day and ended in a street fighting where US Rangers destroyed several Italian tanks with bazookas and grenades. In the same time the fire of the US Navy inflicted heavy losses to the Italian troops in the open ground. The counter-attack failed, Italian troops withdrew. Gela stayed in US Rangers hands.
The stage is set, the battle lines are drawn, and you are in command. The rest is history.

Here’s a screenshot of the map.

Battle of Gela

Note the Rangers holed up in Gela at the bottom, guarding two Axis victory medals.  I think this might be the first time I’ve seen the Italian victory medal placed in an offensive location.

The biggest tactical decision the Allied player will make is, “What do I do with the Rangers?”  The Axis player cannot win without killing one of them, or taking one victory medal, giving the Allied player the option of holding out on the defensive up to the very end.  This can work because of the two destroyers patrolling off the coast.  This gives them long-term firepower superiority which the Axis simply cannot match.

With a strong opening hand, the Axis can make a credible bid to win this battle.  They have the infantry to push forward into the town of Gela, and their two armor units keep the Allies from feeling too confident about charging out of cover.  However, unless things move quickly in their direction, the Axis player is going to start feeling the pain of constant long-range bombardment.  If the Axis do make a push into Gela town, it will be quickly decisive in one direction or the other.  On the other hand, a lucky Barrage by the Axis player in the early turns might knock out a ship, changing the balance of the game entirely.

This is an interesting battle because of how rare it is for the offensive player on a beach map to start on the inland side.  However, from our playtests, it seems like even an excellent Axis opening can only ensure that the battle will be close.  For our first game, my regular opponent (as Axis) opened with two Move Outs and two Infantry Assaults, while I was stuck with a hand full of center cards.  He quickly gained five medals, but found it incredibly difficult to finish me off for the final medal.  The battle quickly turned stupid, as I advanced a Ranger unit into the open to attack his tanks … and killed them both.  His backfield infantry, most of which had used Italian super-retreat to get off the beaches after his initial success, finally won the game.  For our second game, as Axis, I had nothing but probes, and felt lucky to end the battle with three medals.

Overall Evaluation – 3/5 – This is not a bad map, but the fact is that being inevitably destroyed by artillery just isn’t all that fun, and the novelty value wears off quickly.

Balance Evaluation – Allied Favored – DoW Online rates this as 61/39 Axis favored, but fully a third of those games were jdrommel playing himself, and another third were using a mysterious variant on Vassal.  Sure, the Allies can give this away by pushing forward with their Rangers, but why?

First Turn Win Possibility – None – This scenario will be decided late, not early.

Plink-Fest Danger – Moderate – So long as the Axis tanks are intact, the Allied player should keep his units back in cover.  However, an overly cautious Axis player will be mauled by naval fire, conceding the battle before it really gets started.

 

 

Scenario Review – Night Withdrawl

Night Withdrawal is a very odd scenario from the “Taking Caen” campaign from the First Campaign Book, for Memoir ’44.  It uses a variant of the night rule wherein die rolls decrease visibility, leading eventually to full night, and it provides the Germans with an exit point along their own baseline.  It’s certainly original.

Charnwood was the operational codename given to the mission of taking Caen, the elusive D-Day objective that the Germans still held on July 7.

The Allied plan progressed at a slower pace than expected, but was forcing the German command to rethink their hold on the city. Rommel, the commander of Army Group B, ordered that all equipment be withdrawn across the Orne River to make a stand in Caen on the south bank of the river and allowing Allied troops to occupy all of Caen on the north bank. On the night of July 8-9, Axis forces began the withdrawal. They left behind rearguards to prevent the Allies from advancing too fast and managed to establish new defensive positions on the far side of the Orne.

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

Here’s a photo of the map.

Night Withdrawl

The German exit point on their baseline is the defining feature of this game.  It allows the German player to quickly and simply withdraw from the map, and build a nearly insurmountable lead with little effort.  Furthermore, every retreat rolled against the Axis player pushes them closer to this goal.

One can imagine a situation in which the Allied player might open up with an infantry assault on their right flank, and attempt to close off the bridge approach.  The Axis player has sufficient firepower to make this a very risky strategy.  Then again, it’s hard to imagine anything else that can stop an Axis player from pulling everything back, and winning by retreat – other than an Axis hand devoid of center cards.

This map is trying to do something different, and for that, I must give the author, regular contributor Brumbarr44, a fair amount of credit.  But it is bizarre and imbalanced in a strange way.

Overall Evaluation – 2/5 – A reasonable Axis hand can turn this into an incredibly boring scenario in which the Axis win without firing.  However, at least it’s original.

Balance Evaluation – Axis Favored – Even if the Axis player can’t win by pure retreat due to a center-poor hand, the Axis defensive position is not all that bad – and it gets better and better the worse the visibility.  DoW puts this at 52/48 Axis, but reading through the battle reports I see a fair number of campaign players, or games in which barrages were played illegally.

First Turn Win Possibility – None – This is a slow-drip sort of map.

Plink-Fest Danger – None – Only the dumbest Axis player will end up in a tit for tat plink-fest, when withdrawal is a vastly preferable option.

Scenario Review – Operation Epsom

Operation Epsom is, perhaps, my favorite scenario from the Equipment Pack for Memoir ’44.  A lot of Breakthrough-sized Normandy scenarios fail to create an effective balance between Allied firepower and numbers, Axis armor superiority, and the naturally defensive terrain.  Operation Epsom get the balance just about right, creating a tough and interesting battle for both players.

Operation Epsom was General Montgomery’s plan to outflank and seize the German-occupied city of Caen. VIIIth British Corps’ main objective was to break through the German lines by crossing the Odon River and driving for Hill 112. On June 26, the 15th Scottish Infantry Division supported by tanks of the 31st Brigade began its push, gaining a foothold across the Odon near Tourmauville. By the 28th, the Germans began two strong flanking attacks, with the intention of pinching out the British salient. Over the next 2 days, these counter-attacks devolved into a stalemate due to tenacious resistance by the British.

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

Here’s a photo of the map.

IMG_0411[1]

The river is the defining feature of this map, but a second key element is not visible.  The British player can choose 4 of his/her tanks and designate them as “Hobart’s Funnies,” with an ability of his/her choosing.  Proper use of Bridges, Fascines, Mine-sweepers, and Petards are absolutely critical to the British advance, and they can change the flow of the battle dramatically.

One of the great things about this map is that both players have the option of starting the battle offensively or defensively.  The British player is clearly the attacker, and has an easy target on his/her right flank, where there are 3 easy kills and the medal at Grainville.  However, it might make sense to make a few preparatory moves on the center or the left, both to get units away from a no-retreat position vs. the German 88 and to prepare for a decisive river crossing.  The Germans, on the other hand, can open fire with the 88 in the center or their standard artillery near Grainville.  Or, he/she can pull back from Grainville, and prepare for a better stand on the north bank of the river.  Or, he/she can bring armor and artillery forward.

At some point, the British player is going to make a push across the river.  Another great thing about this map is that it’s hard, but possible for the British player to go on the offensive in this way, and actually win.  There are enough targets and medals for a bloody river crossing to pay off, even if the British player never establishes a consistent bridgehead on the north bank.  On the other hand, the German player has the armor and artillery to play an effective game of whack-a-mole, presuming that cards and dice are cooperating.

Much as I love this map, it does have one flaw.  Both sides start with a ton of artillery, and if the British player decides to play it safe and plink from across the river, this will turn into a very long and very boring scenario.  By natural inclination I am not inclined to play in this manner, but cautious min-maxers should probably avoid playing as the British unless they actually enjoy endless plink-fests.

Overall Evaluation – 4/5 – This is a great map, so long as the Brits attack.

Balance Evaluation – Mostly Even to Slightly Axis Favored – I’ve seen both sides win convincingly, and though I’ve played it a lot, I’ve noticed no major trends.  Days of Wonder has it at 69/31 Axis, which I find rather surprising.  I can imagine how the standard Breakthrough deck, with its plethora of extra moves, could give the Germans a major advantage, as they will be able to easily and quickly move their forces up while making no sacrifice in terms of firepower.  That is a major reason I do not play with most of the Breakthrough cards.

First-Turn Win Possibility – None – An aggressive British player will take a pounding in the early phases of the game, but the structure of the map means that the battle will not be over until quite late.

Plink-Fest Danger – High – The potential for artillery-fans to drain all the fun out of this map is, sadly, high.

 

 

 

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.