Friday, July 27, 2018

Portmanteau war games - continued.

I should subtitle this: It seemed a good idea at the time.  Continuing the narrative - rather briefly - of my Tebaga Gap action, I should point out here that I used a heavily modified form of Bob Cordery's 'playing card' method of activating units for solo play.  Just quickly to recap: One side is designated 'Black' and other 'Red'; on each side, half the number of its units is called the 'median point', and cards are allocated -1, = and +1 this median to vary the number of units that may be activated for one side.  The whole is shuffled together into a single pack, and the cards drawn.  
8th Armoured Brigade, drawn up along its start line.

 On the whole I preferred to split the packs into Black and Red and, for each pair of turns, roll a die to see who went first.  This obviated a run of three or more 'Blacks' or 'Reds' turning up with the other side unable effectively to respond, but it did leave open the chance of getting in two turns in a row..  But my major modification was simply to do away with the cards altogether and roll a pair of dice - 1 die determined who went first (Odds = Allies; Evens = Axis) the other to determine how many units it could activate.  Once that side had moved, then the number of units activated was rolled for the second side.  In this determination: 1-2 = 'median'-1 units; 3-4 = 'median' units, 5-6 = 'median' +1 units.
New Zealand Division, ready to go.

 That seemed to work OK.  You may recall from last time, though, that I had split the Allies into two commands.  This I think is appropriate for Allied commands that are for some reason out of communication with each other, but on this occasion, I believe it was a mistaken policy.  Some of the reasons for this view emerged during the action. 

German defenders along the main road north

The best plan - and I think this was the one adopted (more or less) historically - would have been to clear the heights of the Matmata spur before committing the armour to force the passage along the valley floor.  Owing to the activation method I adopted, the New Zealand Division attack - unmotorised as the infantry battalions were - was fairly slow to develop; and the 8th Armoured Brigade get into action rather too soon.  
Looking east along the German defence line.  The PaK
company was placed in a very bad position and never
saw action all day.  The Allies simply did not get past the
infantry to their front.
 I'm still not sure how to handle the artillery in this scale of action.  I regarded all Axis units as invisible until they developed their position by fire or movement, or the Allies got close enough - one hex only intervening if the Germans were dug in (and, by implication, camouflaged).  As it happened, the German MG units on the southwestern slopes of Matmata rather hastily let rip against 24th (NZ) Battalion, and laid low half its strength at once.  Retribution was swift and terminal.  The three 25pr regiments brought down fire upon the luckless machine-gunners and obliterated their position.  Not a good exchange from the German point of view, and it meant that the New Zealanders approaching would have a clear run - give or take barbed wire and mines - all the way to the crest of the spur.
Having disclosed their position prematurely, the MGs
are quickly eliminated by artillery fire.

So it proved.  The Germans simply had to wait.  By the way, while I think of it, I permitted the German defending units to occupy two grid areas, by placing them astride the boundary between the two.  This derives from Bob Cordery's Hexblitz system, but see no reason why it could not work as well in the Portable Wargame system.
New Zealanders advancing on Matmata Ridge.
By this time, 8th Armoured Brigade was already heavily engaged with the panzergrenadiers dug in west of the main road, and even managed to whittle back some of its strength.  But the Germans proved hard to shift.  The supporting fire from the 8.8cm FlaK was soon reinforced by the Panzers and Marders.  Falling back to recover left the defending infantry free to recover their aplomb, and to reorganise.  That is to say, they could 'unpin'.  In the pictures you will observe the occasional yellow counter.  That indicated a 'pinned' unit.  Pined units were unable to initiate close combat, nor might they 'unpin' if in close contact with an enemy.  
The entire New Zealand Divisional artillery moves up to
close the range...

 And that brings me to something that involves a little bit of Boolean Algebra, characterised by the operators AND and OR. The order in which one prioritises the application these operators is usually determined in the Algebra by brackets, or some other method of linking.  For example, A OR (B AND C) means something different from (A OR B) AND C.  As a result of effective fire, a unit might be in a position in which it must retreat OR take a loss.

The wording goes: " ... Unit must retreat one grid area or lose 1 SP and become pinned.' Now, I think the pin is applied only if it is decided that the unit will take the loss.  A unit that retreats remains unpinned.  But this is by no means certain, and I am the type of guy who, faced with an ambiguity - which I can spot a mile off, by the way - will inevitably take the wrong intended meaning.   At any rate I went with what I thought was right.

Overlooking the German left flank...

Another issue raised itself, one I remembered from a previous occasion I looked at the pinning rules.  This is what happened to the Staffordshire Yeomanry.  Close assaulting the the trench line - probably not the smartest method of clearing out the enemy for armour - the Staffs took a hit and became pinned.  It could not move, and could not initiate a close assault.  I presumed, even though directly in front of and adjacent to the enemy, the Staffs could still shoot, but what can you do when you're looking for 5s or 6s, but you have to subtract 1 for the pin, and a further 1 for the enemy protected by fortifications or cover?  

The staffs were stuck, and could not be unstuck until the enemy left their position, voluntarily or by force.  The intervention of the Buffs Motor battalion didn't improve things, neither, as they fetched up pinned and under fire.  I was imagining the German battalion ending up with the entire 8th Armoured parked in fromt of their position, pinned, immodile, and as good a protection as they could hope to obtain against anything but artillery.

Frustrating though that is, there were ways to deal with the situation e.g. to call upon the New Zealand Div artillery.  There was plenty of it!  I feel like suggesting an amendment to the existing rule that a pinned unit may move one grid area but with these restrictions:  1. a pinned unit in a grid area adjacent to a grid area containing an unpinned enemy unit can not move; 2. any move must take the pinned unit further from the enemy than it is already; 3. the pinned unit choosing to move remains pinned, until a move is spent 'unpinning' 4. a unit being 'unpinned' may not move. Current restriction on 'unpinning' continue to apply.

III PzGr Battalion positions carried and overrun.
 As it happened, the ponderous New Zealand attack rolled forward to bring the hill defenders under heavy infantry attack.  Twenty-third Battalion took a loss passing though a minefield (the engineers hadn't come up); and was later to dash itself to pieces frontally assaulting the III PzGr Battalion.  Under cover of this attack, the Vickers platoons of 27th MG Battalion fetched up in an enfilade position on the German left, whilst 21st and 28th (Maori) Battalions launched their own attack.  A counter-attack by II PzGr Battalion looked for a moment as though it might overwhelm the 28th, but a timely intervention by the artillery came to the aid the Maoris.  II PzGr Battalion, within an hour reduced to remnants, was written out of the German order of battle.
The battles in the centre.  In the distance the 21st and 28th
battalions advancing to cut the road.  Time Jerry pilled out!

Although attack and counter-attack were leaving the German defences undented on the valley floor, the final clearing of the Matmata Spur was enough to unhinge the German position.  The elimination of III PzGr Bn brought the Germans below their exhaustion level: further counter-attacks were out of the question.  For their part, although 8th Armoured Brigade still retained all their units in action, it too had reached the end of its tether.  Only the New Zealanders retained the capacity for further attacks.  However, if I counted the 8th Armoured as exhausted, together with the losses the New Zealanders had taken, the whole came to just over half the total Allied force in SPs.  I decided then that the Allies had had enough and called the battle there. 

The Germans had stopped the Allies, but, badly hurt themselves, abandoned the position overnight to a fallback position protecting the coast road.


  1. Archduke Piccolo,

    I like your alternative method of selecting how many units each side can activate each turn. It certainly seems to work, and will appeal to players who abhor the use of playing cards in wargames.

    The wording on the rules should probably read as follows:
    'Unit must:
    1. retreat one grid area or
    2. lose 1 SP and become pinned'
    Unfortunately trying to fit the text into the space on the grid made it difficult to make that absolutely clear.

    All the best,


    1. It looks, then that on this rare occasion I guessed right! I think the judicious use of punctuation might do: "...Unit must retreat one grid area; or lose one SP and become pinned". The semi-colon separating the clauses ought to be sufficient to obviate the ambiguity. Perhaps a change in word order might help, though that might tend to affect meaning in other ways. Maybe...

      I know from my own attempts at rule writing, sorting out ambiguities and simply making one's meaning clear is no trivial task!

      On the matter of unit activation, I quite liked the card system. It is a better visual reminder of where one is at. But the dice system has the virtue of keeping the table - not a big one - relatively clear of clutter.

      I liked the overall look of this scenario, but its one of those ones that for a number of reasons - choices i made - didn't quite 'work'. It will have to be repeated, with a unified command, and the German defences slightly reduced, I think, and better organised.

  2. My inclination with the pinned result is to allow pinned units to fall back and just disallow them from advancing. IdI also apply them to any adverse combat result (including retreat) otherwise there is a double whammy from the hit result. Fall back allows them to disengage and rally.

    BTW remember the +1 for stationary units firing, so a pinned unit firing at an enemy in cover hits it on a 6 as long as the firer is stationary.

    Ive tried this out and it works well.

    A variant is to allow a unit to take a hit to unpin at any point.

    1. I checked the 'stationary firing bit; 'pinned units' are explicitly disallowed that, and I think that is probably reasonable.

      On the matter of withdrawing and returning, for mine the jury is out, but I'm inclined to let that one stand, even if it does mean a likelihood of the retreating unit coming back for more.

      Example. RED 21st Armoured initiates a close assault againstn BLACK 991st infantry, dug in. Both roll a die; the attackers requiring a 6 to hit, the defenders a 5 or 6. The attackers roll a lucky '6' and a '5' for effect; the defenders roll a 5 to hit and a 2 for effect. The armour falls back; the defender remains in situ, but have taken a hit and is pinned. Now, suppose that in this particular 'turn', RED went first. Now it is the defender's turn. What do the defenders do? They have a choice. Not in contact, they might take the opportunity immediately to unpin. Or, they might take a chance on damaging the enemy by shooting, with a 'pinned' minus.

      BLACK will naturally take into account the 50-50 chance that he'll go first next turn.

      It seems to me that in any given combat there is a wide variety of possible outcomes. I'd also be inclined to avoid to much 'stickiness' - which was bad enough with units stuck in contact with an enemy and unable to unstick.

      I still like my 'move away' idea, but would not build it into the combat outcome, but rather allow it to occur a move AFTER the combat that resulted in the pin.

      Having said that, as it stands, an attacker is unlikely to take the hit when a retreat is possible. There is no incentive to do so. A defender might, on the other hand, if he is really determined to hold a position.

      This is one area I would be inclined to subject to a heck of a lot of testing before considering accepting that all hits resulted in pins.

    2. We played around a lot with variations of pins and retreats after some extremely silly situations involving units retreating out of trenches and marching straight back in again.

      Excessive use of pins can kill any mobility though. I spent hours play testing various permutations until I just gave up as life is too short.

    3. I can see your point as it concerns a defender being forced out of a position, then returning next move. But is that so unreasonable?

      Just an aside: my experiences with the DB# type of war game has led me to ask questions of 'funny looking' mechanics and any proposed amedments. One q question is 'why is it there?' and the other 'is it so unrealistic?'

      Consider - the above hypothetical example, but reverse the 'ffect' dice. The attackers roll a '2' and cause the defenders to decide whether to retreat or take the knock; the defenders roll a '5', for a hit and a pin.

      The defenders decide to retreat. Next turn, the defenders go first, and retake the position lost before the attackers can bring anything in to occupy it.

      What has just happened? Clearly the attack and defence were so finely balanced that they reached the cusp in which the defenders felt they could not stop the assault, and the attackers felt they couldn't shift the enemy. This sort of thing must happen from time to time, surely (this quite apart from Clausewitz's observation that it was no rare thing for a victory to be so costly as to compel a retreat).

      Possibly a few attacking elements did break into the position and forced the defenders out, but not enough to withstand the counter-attack that ensued. The majority of the attacking unit got pinned down and didn't recover quickly enough to reinforce such success they enjoyed. All this would have occurred at a level below the figure or element scale of the game.

      With that possibility, the defenders' reoccupation of the position lost is not a mere stroll back into the empty fortifications recently abandoned, but a counterattack against an exiguous exploitation of an attacker's dearly bought success.

      I'll go with that, I think.

    4. I'm very tempted, Martin, to publish our conversation as a substantive article. There is much of interest here, methinks.

  3. Is anyone else getting this viagra asli spam?