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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.

 

 

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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 – 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.

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 – 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 – Panzer Attack on Hill 140

Panzer Attack on Hill 140 is a Normandy scenario from the Equipment Pack for Memoir ’44.  This is not a bad scenario, from a gameplay perspective, but for a map with the subtitle “Massacre of the British Colombia Regiment,” something seems off.  It stands to reason that a “massacre” scenario should be somewhat imbalanced.  This scenario is a tad imbalanced – in the wrong direction!

By August 9, 1944, Operation Totalize had lost its momentum in the face of stiff resistance from German troops, now busy establishing a new defensive line on the Laizon river. Then tragedy struck for the British: lost in darkness, Worthington Force, a group of Algonquin Infantrymen in half-tracks and tankers from the 4th Canadian Armored Division, missed their objective, Hill 195, and ran smack dab into German defenses on Hill 140. Under withering fire from Flak 88s and the German Tigers and Panthers, the force lost 43 tanks out of 46, 250 men, and Lt-Col Worthington himself.

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

This is an official scenario from the Equipment Pack, and as such the map is not available online.  Here’s my bad photo.

Hill 140

The key thing to note is the dramatic imbalance in forces on the British left flank.  The have two tanks, an infantry, and an artillery facing off against a heavy German Armor unit that’s pinned against the baseline and the river, and a single infantry.  Thanks to their artillery and their 88, the Germans have enough firepower in the center to make things hard for the Brits, but without a strong hand full of multi-regional cards it’s not going to be easy.

The British Armor superiority is really striking on this map.  If the Axis player brings his or her armor out of cover to attack, it can get quickly stomped by the superior British force – especially if the Brit has been holding an Armor Assault in his or her hand, as happened to me!

This map is not TOO imbalanced, really.  Days of Wonder online has it at 47/53 Allies, which seems a bit close to me.  However, tank battles can go that way sometimes – one player gets on a roll, and in a single attack completely destroys the opponent’s entire tank army.  Given the tough German units, and the completely unpredictable nature of the stock Tiger rule, the Germans do have a reasonable chance to win this battle.

However, a reasonable chance to win a tough fight is not a massacre!

Overall Evaluation – 3/5 – This is an interesting battle, but nothing special.  Its failure to match the theme hurts it a bit.

Balance Evaluation – Somewhat Allied Favored – With normal luck, the British player should be able to clear out the German tanks and take this map thorough sheer weight of numbers.

First-Turn Win Possibility – Possible – There is the potential for a monster German opening – a General Advance or Finest Hour and some hot dice can gut the entire British Armored corps on the opening move.  It’s not very likely, but it could happen.

Plink-Fest Danger – Moderate – If both players are stuck with bad hands, there might be incentive for both sides to try to win at range, with tank plinks and artillery.

 

Scenario Review – Canal de la Haute Colme

Canal de la Haute Colme is an early-war scenario for Memoir ’44, and was published in the Equipment Pack.  Like many of the scenarios from the Equipment Pack, it has some problems.

In conjunction with an evening attack by the 11 Schützen, the SS-Regiment “Leibstandart Adolf Hitler” moved forward to try and break the French line around Dunkirk, splitting the 225th and 341th Regiments. But crossing the Canal de la Haute Colme turned out to be a nightmare: although stretched thin, French forces had deployed along all possible crossing points. The spirited German assault was blunted as night fell.

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

As an official scenario, the map is not available online.  Here’s a bad photographCanal de la Haute Colme

The Germans have a distinct advantage on their right flank, where the French only have two dug-in infantry units to defend a river crossing.  If the Germans can push through at that point, then more than likely the game is over since the entire French baseline is an exit zone. However, the battle is not likely to start on that flank, as the Germans have a number of vulnerable units jammed up on the baseline on their left lank, within easy fire range of the French.

This is a very challenging map for the German player, because their force is just not quite enough to really force a crossing.  Given average cards and hands for both sides, the French should mangle the Germans on the approach and easily pick off any stragglers that make it across the river.  This doesn’t mean that a German win is impossible – it’s just really unlikely.

Many unbalanced maps are still fun.  Omaha Beach comes to mind.  I’ll play Omaha over and over as Americans, because every time you play, it feels like victory is just out of reach.  This map does not really capture that same feeling, because the nature of the obstacles and the force disposition is such that the scenario never really feels possible for the Germans.  Furthermore, the French player doesn’t really have all that much to do.  Most of his or her units can sit right where they until the end of the game, and fire upon the Germans as they advance.

It’s not broken, but it’s also not all that interesting.

General Evaluation – 2/5 – This map left both of us with a distinct feeling of meh.

Balance Evaluation – French favored – DoW Online has it at 60/40, which might be a bit generous for the Germans.

First-Turn Win Possibility – None – This is a slog map.

Plink-Fest Danger – Moderate – As crossing the canal is so dangerous for the German, he or she may be tempted to use Armor and Artillery to wear down the French before committing to the engagement.  The German player may also be tempted to pull back after a failed attempt at a crossing.  Neither of those scenarios would result in a terribly interesting game.