26 January 2021

Armchair Generals - BoF16 AAR

BoF16 Saluting a General

Series Replay: Andy Bagley (Russian) vs Jim Bishop (German)

First released by Friendly Fire as FrF56 in 2011, the MMP version of “Saluting a General” was published last year as BoF16 in Best of Friends 2. By the end of 2020, the Remote On-line Automated Record (ROAR) showed that the Russian side had won roughly 68 percent of 37 reported games. Admittedly this is a small sample size, but any scenario trending close to 70 percent for any one side invites scrutiny. And so it is with the (very) preliminary stats for the MMP version of “Saluting a General,” which literally favour the Russians 3 to 1 on ROAR. A recent game between two “Tuomos” (Tuomo Lukkari and Tom Repetti) reinforced an emerging view that the scenario remains pro Russian. If true, it may come as a surprise to the MMP editorial team who presumably tinkered with the scenario. Someone did. 

Set in September 1942, the scenario portrays a short and sharp counterattack by German infantrymen supported by medium tanks. Opposing them is a reinforced company’s worth of Soviet riflemen backed by a heavy machine gun (HMG), an 82mm mortar (MTR), and a mix of Lend-Lease Lees and Stuarts. The action occurs south of Karmanovo during the 15-month long battle for control of the Rzhev salient some 200 kilometres west of Moscow. 

Setting for BoF16

The Russian player is tasked with defending a small patch of woodland toward the rear of a three-board frontage. The card encourages the Defender to place a skirmish line well forward of the victory area centred on 85E5. Failure to do so will almost certainly result in a German win. Without this screen, German Infantry can halve the distance they need to traverse by setting up within twelve hexes of the objective. Much, however, depends on the outcome of the armour battle. Given the time of the war, the humble infantryman appears to have little to say in the matter.

Backbone of 2. PzD in 1942

Analysis of the BoF16 Card 

The MMP version reinforces the Germans, adding a second 8-0 leader, and a fourth PzKpfw III Ausf. G (Pz IIIG). Ordinarily, Armor Piercing Composite Rigid (APCR) rounds are only available to the Pz IIIG in 1941, the only year for which the counter has an APCR exponent. (According to the German Vehicle Rarity Factor Chart in Chapter H, the Pz IIIG did not see combat after 1941—more on this later.) Notwithstanding this, the revamped scenario grants the Pz IIIG APCR 5. What’s more, the solitary Pz IIIH in the initial design was denied APCR by Scenario Special Rule (SSR). Not so the new-and-improved card. 

BoF16 Panzer OB [2020]

If we ignore proximity modifiers, APCR provides only a modest bump in penetration for five of the 50mm barrels. The three-point increase (from 11 to 14) is nonetheless significant, as it doubles the probability that a Pz IIIG or Pz IIIH will knock out a Stuart at ranges of 12 or less. The penetrative power of a long-barrelled panzer is more impressive. The APCR To-Kill Number (TK#) of a Pz IIIJ jumps by four to 17, which will destroy a Stuart on anything but a Dud (C7.35). With APCR available on a 6 or less, the Pz IIIJ is also a serious threat to the Lee. The chances of penetrating the Lee’s front armour quadruples (from 18% to 72%)! However, the destructive potential of APCR is arguably secondary to effectively giving all German Armored Fighting Vehicles (AFV) the potential for two To-Hit attempts in the all important who-shoots-first-wins armour battle. 

FrF56 Panzer OB [2011]

Meanwhile, Russian capabilities have been degraded slightly by removing all Special Ammunition, i.e., Canister and Smoke. The original card used American counters for the Lend-Lease tanks. However, the Russian Lees released in Hakkaa Päälle! (HP) also have Smoke 8. If that were not enough, the Russian balance was changed in a way that favours the Germans, or, if you prefer, favours the Russians less than before. Rather than add a Stuart to the Russian reinforcements—which is what the Friendly-Fire card did—the revised Russian balance removes a Pz IIIG from the opposing side. If you’ve been paying attention, the Russian balance simply returns the panzer complement to its original (Friendly-Fire) strength!

[Edit: The Germans don’t have it all their way though. While preparing the graphics for this post I noticed something that had escaped my attention until now. You will recall that on the original card, the Russians use American counters for the lend-lease tanks in their OB. Specifically, the Friendly Fire card calls for three M3 LT (light tank) and three M3 MT (medium tank). I’ve already noted the slight difference between the American and Russian versions of the MT. The difference between the LT is more substantial.

The Russian Stuart counters included in HP actually represent M3A1 LT. I gather that MMP made the swap because there are no Russian M3 LT in the counter mix. From a fog-of-war standpoint, using American M3 LT counters with Russian Lees was a non-starter. So the easy solution was to use the later model. There are two consequences of the swap, one minor, one not so much. 

The early M3 was something of a sport model featuring, as it did, a pair of forward-facing machineguns (MG) in port and starboard sponsons. These fixed MG were in addition to the bow-mounted MG (BMG) in the hull. Fired in concert with the BMG, the three MG generate a 4 Firepower (FP) attack. However, due to the sponson MG being fixed, this fire is less effective when engaging moving targets. This is signified by the white circle behind the BMG FP on the counter. 

The second consequence of the swap is that unlike the M3, the M3A1 is a small target. And that is an important consideration that I didn’t factor into my original analysis.] 

M3 vs M3A1 Stuart

Only a handful of players are likely to draw these comparisons, however. How then do we explain the current win-loss pattern? My hypothesis is that the perceived imbalance has more to do with the technical and tactical challenges of the scenario than with any supposed shortcoming in the German order of battle (OB). 

Granted the Russian side is not without its own challenges. The Russian track record nevertheless speaks for itself. Like a number of Friendly Fire designs featuring a host of AFV, BoF16 demands a higher level of technical and tactical expertise of the Attacker than of the Defender. Between equally matched players, I would expect the Russians to win more often than not.  It’s a working hypothesis. :-)

Pregame Comments

(Jim) I watched a replay from Tom Repetti and Tuomo Lukkari. In that game, Tuomo played masterfully on defense. Try as he might, Tom could not crack it. To be fair, I am not sure many could have cracked it. Later, after reviewing the card, I think this one favors the Russian at least 55:45, if not more. I cannot pass up a challenge like this so I solicited a game to play as the Germans. Fortunately for me, Andy Bagley agreed to give me a game. [Chris: Jim had asked me to play punching bag, but time-zones differences nixed the idea.] What follows are my thoughts on the game.

BoF16 Setup Restrictions and VC Area.

Worst case scenario, the Germans have to go at least 24 hexes forward in just seven movement phases. That’s a forward movement rate of four hexes a turn and that only gets me to the front of the woods. I am going to have to push like crazy to make the distance and somehow, I need to have at least one tank, if not two, to try and break anything that sets up in the back of the woods. I anticipate Andy to try and set up forward to limit my set up areas. If I see this, I need to look for weaknesses, push aggressively into these soft spots, and try to cut him off as he seeks to relocate to the VC area. I cannot let him stuff the Victory Condition (VC) area with the whole of his OB or the game will be over. Unlike normal, I will not use my leaders to force the forward tempo. I am going to need them to be well placed to clean up the wreckage of my hazardous advance. Rally and getting back into the game are going to be key to getting enough of my Infantry into the VC area. 

My intent going in is to push forward with my armor as quickly as I can. I will use the combo of tanks and Infantry to cut off his push into the VC area. If I can isolate a 5 on 3 or better tank duel, I am going to force the action. I am going to move the 50L’s [Pz IIIJ] last as they are my main Lee killers. If I cannot get a side shot on a Lee with any of the others, I am going to strip away the Stuarts. If his tanks are passive, I am going to hammer his Infantry with point-black machinegun fire and try to cut rout paths.

A lot will depend on how Andy approaches the game. I am going to react to what he gives, form a schwerpunkt, and then force the action. Having said that, the distance I need to travel seems to be more than the time I have allotted to me. I will get more and more desperate as time goes forward. A competent defense here will be nearly impossible to crack open. 

Not their first rodeo.

(Chris) Assuming an optimal skirmish line, and with only seven turns to work with, German Infantry has to keep up a steady pace of 3-4 hexes per turn if it is to reach and clear the VC area before the closing bell. If this timetable is delayed in any way—due to the wounding or elimination of a leader—the Germans will have to take more risks during the endgame. The panzers, which enter on Turn 2, have a lot to do. (Before you ask, Riders are verboten for Germans in 1942.) Apart from reducing any stubborn pockets of resistance and disrupting the orderly withdrawal of enemy Infantry, the Germans need to win the armour battle. I expect Jim to use Smoke Dischargers whenever possible. On the whole the panzers have a lot going for them.  

Due to the date, Russian AFV are required to use Red To-Hit Numbers. In practical terms, this takes a “pip” away from Russian tankers at ranges greater than six. In addition to the aforementioned APCR advantage, two panzers are crewed by 9-1 leaders, which further increases the odds of a hit. It’s a good thing for Andy that his “American” armour enters before the panzers do. 

I expect Stuarts to take up Hulldown (HD) positions in the 85J3 area, and possibly 42W5. These light tanks have a few things in their favour. They have 18 Movement Points (MP), 5 MP more than any German tank, and are small targets. Moreover, their Main Armament (MA) packs the same punch as most of the panzers do. Should the opportunity arise, I’d like to see Stuarts used for hit-and-run attacks on isolated enemy AFV. In the main, however, they need to protect the flanks of their bigger brethren.

Seven ain't so lucky after all.

Speaking of which, the Lees are powerful yet awkward weapon platforms. They can be tricky to get the most out of, in part, because the bow-mounted Secondary Armament (SA) cannot fire at a target that the Lee would be HD to (D4.223). The Lees fast-traverse turret is an improvement over the Stuart. However, the MA is less effective than the 75mm SA is at engaging enemy Infantry, and to some extent, enemy armour. (The 75’s higher TK# of 13 is offset by its fire being confined to the Lee’s VCA.) More worrisome for the Russian player is that both of the Lees guns have B11. Like the Stuart, the Lee has a full complement of MG. On the one hand, the Lee has a unique Anti-Aircraft MG (AAMG) that can be fired while the tank is Buttoned Up (BU) or Crew Exposed (CE), and therefore can be used in CC. On the other hand, the BMG is unimpressive. Because it represents a pair of MG in fixed mounts that are fired remotely, the BMG receives a +1 DRM when firing at a moving/Motion target. Before you dismiss the BMG, it does allow the Lee to pivot in the face of flanking panzers, which are the more likely threat. 

Russian Infantry cannot hope to hold the victory area without armour support. (Entrenching could help, especially for the mortar, as it provides the same TEM as Emplacement does. Remember that, as per A25.21, Russians receive a -1 DRM to their entrenchment attempts.) The Defender therefore  needs to win the tank battle. Outnumbered, Russian AFV need to be mutually supporting. Short interior lines will aid in shifting positions quickly. Where possible, Russian armour should force enemy AFV to expose themselves to more than one Russian tank at a time. If I could give the Russian player only one piece of advice, it would be to remain CE as much as possible. [Jim’s Comment: I agree with Chris here to a point. At least until the threat of German tanks getting close enough for MG fire, I think the Russians should be CE. Given all the hindrances and moving targets, the Russian is likely to end up in that 6-8 TH range where the extra +1 is going to make the most possible difference. It’s a little less clear once the German tanks get closer, but arguably CE gives the American tanks one more Defensive First Fire (DFF)/Final Fire option with AAMG.]

BoF16 Russian Setup with comments.

Explanation of Russian setup 

(Andy): The most obvious thing is the screen of units forcing the Germans to set up as far West as possible. This is more than just a picket line however; it is designed to prevent easy access to the village on board 85 by making it difficult for the Germans to cross the Y1–Y10 road. My plan is that as many of these screening units as possible will retreat back rather than defending in place, and I have tried to place them with available cover routes to facilitate this.

The Germans could set up so that they can Prep Fire at some of these screen units on turn 1. However I think it is more likely that they will move and Advancing Fire, so I plan to keep concealment unless any of my units has a - 2 DRM shot open to them. 

I have three stacks containing three concealed units, so hopefully he won’t know where my heavy machine gun is. However, I can’t resist the temptation to place this on the 1st floor of 42V2; it will not have any firelane from there, but can cover the grain and road on that board so should help to discourage any flanking approach on that side. 

The mortar may look oddly placed In 85I5 because it cannot fire from a building. However, my plan is to move the mortar back into the Woods in 85F4 where, although it will be hindered, it should have some protection from incoming fire, and the crew could also help with some last ditch defence if needed. 

My plan for the tanks is to position one on each of boards 5 and 42, to counter any German attempt to get behind my lines. I will use my M3 Stuart light tanks for this, which could also threaten to run round behind his advance if he does not cover this. The remainder of my tanks will keep together close to the Victory Condition Woods hexes to provide firepower and mutual support. My opinion is that the tank forces are closely matched, with pros and cons on either side, so my aim is to let him come to me rather than the other way round.

Analysis of Russian Setup 

(Jim) I have drawn the perimeter around the Russian setup. [Andy: 5AA6 should be 5BB6.] As I must set up ≥ 7 hexes, the perimeter is drawn at the 6-hex range. There is very little to exploit here. There is a small crease in the line around 42F2. In 42V2 Level one there are three counters and a concealment. This must be his 9-1/HMG stack. His other support weapons are all on board 85. As orchards are in season, I will need to exploit this as the LOS from the HMG stack isn’t that good. The question is which of the remaining stacks is his mortar. I lean towards 85N10 stacked with the 7-0. I believe his intent is to move it to the rear as quickly as possible. Given that it is 5PP, the leader will allow the unit to move 5 Movement Factors (MF) as opposed to 2MF. I am not sure what’s going on in 5U9. With two counters in that hex and no dummy counters, that’s a lot of commitment to just screening. I am hoping that’s two squads, but if not, I am OK with that being one SW out of place. [Andy: It was a squad and ATR looking for a side/rear shot, which it got on Turn 6!] [Jim: It did eventually get the shot on Turn 6, but in my opinion it would have been better placed in the center of the board where it would have had more opportunities regardless of the flank I chose to attack on.] That works for me. 
Comrades! Start your engines!

(Chris) Don’t like it. I don’t like that the Russians need so many troops so far forward in order to keep the German start line as far west as possible. But do they? The most direct route to the objective is also the least costly in MF expenditure. Such an obvious approach cannot be ignored. But maybe one of the less obvious lines of advance can be. Personally, I’d happily leave the far north ungarrisoned in the hope that it will encourage the Germans to waste a few turns running a stack along the northern edge of the playing area. For this reason, I’d probably shift the stack in 5U9 to 5S6 where it can cover several gaps at once. And from S6, the Russian stack could either withdraw down the woods road, or reposition to 5Q4. With a stack in S6, the unit in 5W3 could be pushed south to 85W10 where it would cover two likely approaches. I also question the wisdom of leaving a salient on board 42 that the Germans can use as a jumping off point. A unit in 42L0 would have removed the salient, while covering the south flank of the village. These are minor quibbles, however. What matters most is where the heavy MG (HMG) and the mortar begin play.

I understand the temptation to put the HMG on the upper level of 42V2, but can’t see it having any significant targets on German Turn 1. (Due to the orchard in 85Q1, it’s LOS is quite restricted.) Any eastward run down the board 42 road would entail running through 42G4, which is covered by the Russian unit in 42K7. More worrisome is that the HMG could be out of play for several turns as it repositions. If the HMG stack doesn’t reposition, it runs the risk of becoming trapped in the building. Of course, it’s possible that the HMG is in 85I5. But I’m not buying it. (While on the subject of building 42V2, the upper levels may be a good place to start the ATR, possibly with the 8-1 leader, in the hopes of Immobilizing a Pz IIIJ with a Deliberate Immobilization shot. That could be a game changer.) [Andy: Must admit I didn’t think of this, though very low odds if PzIII In Motion.] [Chris: As the Defender, I would keep the ATR concealed until an enemy tank parked itself within six hexes and was no longer considered to be Moving for TH purposes. A six or less with a hull hit, and the 8-1 would be a Hero of the Soviet Union!]

The other important piece is the 82mm mortar, which must begin play dismantled. The main consequence of this is that weapon and crew cannot set up Emplaced, and therefore Hidden. The medium mortar is nonetheless special in that it can be assembled and get a bomb down range in the same fire phase. (The opposite is also the case. See Russian Ordnance Note 2.) Although entrenching remains an option, the Russian crew is very exposed in what is almost exclusively +1 TEM. One good spot is 85M2, which covers large tracts of the 85L4 and 85P4 woods. Less ideal is 85J10. I like 85M10. I’m fairly certain that the mortar is in 85N10, which is a good place to start because it threatens the large wood mass to the west, but can be withdrawn through interior woods hexes if necessary.

The Defender has to make some tough compromises. Unfortunately, I think that Andy has compromised in a couple of places where he needn’t have. I’m curious to see how he deploys his tanks on Turn 1, and whether he withdraws the stack in 42V2.

BoF16 German Setup

Initial Attack Plan 

(Jim) I am going to push forward hard. The goal for the first two turns is to cut off Russians from falling back to the VC area. I am going to pressure 42K7 and 85W3/W6. The Stack in 42D10 is going to move to J7/J8. I would like to stop the Russians from getting to the trail hex in L7 without being fired upon. If I can break that guy, I will round him up in my next MPh. The stack in 42F5 is heading to 45K2. I will need to have Russian in K7 under target selection limits to make this happen. The goal is to split up on Advance and try to cover the Russian retreat from 42K7 and 85W3. Lastly, the stack in 85DD10 is going to 5W1. Their goal is to slow the retreat out of Board 5. They should be concealed for their move. They will split up out of W1 into W10/V10. From there, I will have to play by ear to see how it goes. 

Analysis of German Setup 

(Andy) Looks like a fairly spread out attack coming up, although with some emphasis on board 5 and he could ignore the village on board 85 completely on turn 1. Half squads are obviously intended for reconnaissance and I expect him to move those first, so I’ll have to think about which of my squads will open fire on these, and which will wait for possibly more juicy targets later.

(Chris) The Germans are too spread out. A single Russian attack could stall a push along any one axis, and the Germans have chosen to begin with three! Three big stacks will have the Russian Sniper salivating. I would have preferred to see the attack concentrated on a single line of advance with no more than one minor diversionary or flanking group. I don’t think the Germans can afford a pinned or wounded leader when they are this spread out. A dead leader would be a minor catastrophe. [Jim: My plan was to always have these two groups meet somewhere around the VC area. They look more spread out than they actually are. Keep in mind, from the outset, I realized my tanks would have to do most of the heavy lifting. The role of my Infantry was mostly about cutting off Russians trying to stuff the VC are (failed for the most part) and to claim VC hexes my AFV had cleaned up.]

The southernmost stack looks poised to pressure the lone Russian squad in the board 42 wood mass. I don’t see any value in trying to flank the Russians by moving along the south edge of board 42. So I’m interested to see what Jim has in mind for this stack. No surprise re the stack in 42F2. I expected Jim to take advantage of the gap in the Russian skirmish line on the northern half of board 42. The stack in 85DD10 will undoubtedly make the most progress on Turn 1. But I wonder if it will be able to break out from the 5U1 wood mass on turns 2 and 3 should the Russians cover the Q-R gap in strength. Jim’s set up may make more sense to me after his tanks arrive. 

Part 2 is here! 


Jim Bishop said...

Thanks for posting this Chris. I appreciate it. -- jim

Chris Doary said...

My pleasure Jim.