(Repeat) History to #Coronatine #Wargame – Operation Battleaxe: Wavell vs. Rommel, 1941 (revolutiongames.us, 2013)

15 JUNE 1941: A major British offensive, Operation Battleaxe, begins. The aim is to relieve Tobruk. Wavell is still reluctant to attack, largely because the tanks which recently arrived on the Tiger convoy have had many mechanical faults and the time taken for repairs means that the troops have had a very short training period. Although the two divisions involved, 4th Indian and 7th Armored, are both experienced formations, they are not at full strength and have been further weakened by changes in command. (From “15 June 1941 – North Africa, “The World Almanac Book of World War II, World Almanac Publications, 1981, p. 108)

[Let the game begin]

“The Allies send three main columns forward, one to Halfaya Pass, one to Fort Capuzzo along the edge of the escarpment and one inland to Sidi Suleiman. From Gasr el-Abid the 11th Hussars Reconnaissance Regiment and Central India Horse use their fast tanks and armored cars to drive straight to Sidi Omar (+1VP). The attack of the Matilda tanks of Squadron A, 4th Royal Tank Regiment in the Halfaya Pass is brought to a standstill by emplaced German 88mm Anti-tank guns of the 33rd FLAK Regiment. Two other British attacks led by 2nd, 6th, 7th, and elements of the 4th Royal Tank Regiments converge on Stutzpunkt (Point) 206 and a fierce battle develops. Sensing an opportunity, the 11th Hussars and Central India Horse drive to Gabr el-Gerrari to and tie into the flank of 7th Armored. At the end of June 15, Halfaya Pass is still held by the Germans but Fort Capuzzo is threatened.”

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Game map for Operation Battleaxe from Revolution Games. The British start with Tobruk (upper left) under siege and the offensive jumping off from red letter areas to the south and east. VP zones are denoted in red.

“On June 16, the British strike first with an attack on Pt 206, which they occupy quickly followed by attacks on Fort Capuzzo. The fort holds, but barely. The German 15th Panzer Division now joins the battle to relieve Fort Capuzzo but runs headlong into the anti-tank guns of the British 65th Anti-Tank and is chewed up. The first battle of Rommel’s Afrika Korps is very inauspicious. The German 5th Light Division attempts to outflank the British 7th Armored and travels deep thru the desert from Sidi Rezegh to Bir el-Hurush to take Pt 206 from behind. This time it is the anti-tank guns of the 12th Australian Anti-Tank that savage the German armor units. At the end of June 16, the British are in control of Sidi Omar (+1VP), Pt. 206 (+2VP), and Fort Capuzzo (+2 VP).”

“On June 17, Wavell recognizes that most of the German armor has been destroyed by his anti-tank guns the day before. Sensing an opportunity, the takes the under-strength 2nd & 6th Royal Tank Regiments and strikes out along the coast to Tobruk. By the end of the day, Bardia (+1VP) and Mentasir II (+2VP) have fallen. Meanwhile, the German defenders at Halfaya Pass look on worryingly as a desperate see-saw battle in Musaid sees both sides trade control of the area. At stake is the supply lines for the Halfaya Pass defenders. As the day ends, the British have established control of Musaid and cut off the Halfaya defenders from any resupply.”

“Though Halfaya Pass is yet to fall, it is obvious that Operation Battleaxe is a resounding British victory. In Berlin, Hitler is furious at the loss of his Panzers. With the start of Operation Barbarossa only a few days away, plans are considered for the withdrawal of all German forces in North Africa. More importantly, the Allies have finally faced down the Austrian Corporal’s tanks and shown them to be vulnerable, breaking the aura of invincibility that has surrounded German armor since the Fall of France.*”

[79 Years Later]

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Courtesy BoardGameGeek

Amazing how different a game this game of Operation Battleaxe was from the first. Whereas in the first game the Germans could not roll wrong, this time the dice gods heavily favored the British. Even with Wireless Intercepts (spend The Advantage to Regroup then Assault in and impulse) and Axis Battlefield Recovery (return one Reduced-Strength Axis armored unit to Full Strength each Refit Phase for free) the German lose armor faster than it can be replaced. The British also managed to put most the the German units on the map out-of-supply and more than a few units Surrender.

Unlike my first game, The Advantage was heavily traded in this game. Early on June 16 and 17, the British player used The Advantage to trigger an Axis Fuel Shortage meaning no Combined Operations (activate more than one area). Both sides liberally traded The Advantage whenever a Fanatical Defense or Maximum Attack was needed. The German player was able to call on Rommel an der spitz! (add a die to an attack roll) only a few times – when needed most the Allies tended to hold The Advantage.

Operation Battleaxe: Wavell vs. Rommel, 1941. Designed by Michael Rinella of Take Aim Designs for Revolution Games and released in 2013. Great simple-to-learn wargame with just the right amount of chrome to feel ‘authentic’ without major rules overhead.


*Liberally cribbed from “15-17 June 1941 – North Africa,” The World Almanac Book of World War II, World Almanac Publications, 1981, p. 108 – but of course changed to reflect my wargame situation.

Feature image: “A soldiers stops to inspect the grave of a German tank crew, killed when their PzKpfw III tank, seen in the background, was knocked out in recent fighting in the Western Desert, 29 September 1942.” Courtesy ww2today.com

History to #Coronatine #Wargame – The sharp edge of Operation Battleaxe: Wavell vs. Rommel, 1941 (revolutiongames.us, 2013)

15 JUNE 1941: A major British offensive, Operation Battleaxe, begins. The aim is to relieve Tobruk. Wavell is still reluctant to attack, largely because the tanks which recently arrived on the Tiger convoy have had many mechanical faults and the time taken for repairs means that the troops have had a very short training period. Although the two divisions involved, 4th Indian and 7th Armored, are both experienced formations, they are not at full strength and have been further weakened by changes in command. (From “15 June 1941 – North Africa, “The World Almanac Book of World War II, World Almanac Publications, 1981, p. 108)

[Let the game begin]

“The Allies send four columns forward, one to Halfaya Pass, one to Fort Capuzzo along the edge of the escarpment and two inland to Sidi Suleiman and Bir el-Hurush. The attack of the Matilda tanks of Squadron A, 4th Royal Tank Regiment in the Halfaya Pass is brought to a standstill by emplaced German 88mm Anti-tank guns of the 33rd FLAK Regiment. Two other British attacks led by 2nd, 6th, 7th, and elements of the 4th Royal Tank Regiments converge on Stutzpunkt (Point) 206 – and are thrown back by the impressive action of the 33rd Anti-Tank Battalion.”

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Situation near end of June 15. The 33rd AT Battalion defending Pt. 206 has already inflicted significant British armor losses. It will not get any better in the next two days….

“For two days, the British tanks throw themselves at Pt. 206, and for two days the 33rd AT Battalion makes a heroic stand before reluctantly withdrawing to Fort Capuzzo. Even when the British try to outflank Pt. 206 they run headlong into the newly arrived German 5th Light Division and its armor. With their own armor reduced to smoking husks in front of Pt. 206, British infantry units try to hold what they can but eventually start a fighting withdrawal. By the end of June 17, Wavell knows he is defeated. Though he is on control of Halfaya Pass and  Pt. 206 he has failed to relieve the Siege of Tobruk. British losses are painfully high. In this first action against Rommel, the British 7th Armored Division is all but destroyed, while the relatively unscathed German 5th Light Division is poised to for a counterattack deeper into Egypt. Wavell is forced to call off the offensive and signal the failure of Battleaxe to Churchill.”*

[79 Years Later]

I LOVE A WARGAME THAT IS ALMOST HISTORY. In this case, I am talking about Operation Battleaxe: Wavell vs. Rommel, 1941 by designer Michael Rinella of Take Aim Designs and published by Revolution Games in 2013. This title is part of the Area-Impulse series of wargames by Mr. Rinella that includes Patton’s Vanguard (2017) and Counter-Attack: The Battle of Arras, 1940 (2019) also published by Revolution Games. The Area-Impulse series are lower complexity games that use area movement and activation of areas in impulses. Each day is of a variable length as each turn includes a Sunset DR (Die Roll) to see if another impulse occurs or if the next turn in triggered.

Operation Battleaxe does an excellent job portraying the situation in North Africa in June 1941. The British have to strike hard to relieve Tobruk while the Axis must defend. This was the first action of Rommel and the 5th Light Division. In this game these key German units are not released until the second day but once they are….

Each turn in Operation Battleaxe is one day, meaning the British player has only three turns to achieve victory. Given the odds built into the Sunset DR, this means on average each turn will be about 7 impulses. The Allies realistically have something like 21 actions to build their victory – meaning there is little enough time to act and even less time to waste. The Allied player earns VP at the end of every turn for control of certain areas. They also gain VP at the end of the game for eliminated German units and reduced German armored units. If they have enough VP then win; less than enough and Mr. Churchill is unhappy!

For such a simple game, Operation Battleaxe actually has a decent amount of chrome to reflect some of the unique conditions of this war. Like every Area-Impulse game, there is The Advantage which can be cashed in by the owning player for an effect such as Fanatical Defense or Axis Fuel Shortage. In this game, I strongly encourage the use of The Advantage Optional Rules which are Additional Tiger Cubs (return a single Allied armor unit to full strength without spending a Replacement Point) and Wireless Intercepts (reflects the Axis advantage given their ability to read British messages). Both are easy to use and add just-that-much-more flavor to the game for almost no rules overhead.

In my game, the 33rd AT Battalion in Pt. 206 rolled HOT(!!!) for June 15 and 16. It certainly sold itself dearly for delaying the British advance. Indeed, by the end of June 15, when the German 5th Light Division was released, the battle was actually pretty much finished given the British armor losses. In this game the British ‘Tigers’ were pretty much declawed from the beginning.

A great aspect of the Area-Impulse games is that they are smaller footprint and actually play relatively quickly meaning I will likely get a second game in this evening. With an easy-to-learn and relatively unsophisticated, yet highly thematic, game system that plays quickly, Operation Battleaxe make a perfect Coronatine wargame.


*Liberally cribbed from “15-17 June 1941 – North Africa,” The World Almanac Book of World War II, World Almanac Publications, 1981, p. 108 – but of course changed to reflect my wargame situation.

Feature image: “Destroyed Matilda tank North Africa.” Courtesy worldwarphotos.info

#Coronatine #Wargame Arrivals – April 2020

A few new arrivals for the gaming table. With all this Coronatine time they should get to the table quickly.

25575CAF-6D59-449D-A2C9-80652BF2A819Operation Battleaxe: Wavell vs. Rommel, 1941 (Revolution Games, 2013)

This area-impulse design is both easy to learn and plays quickly. I also have enjoyed several of designer Michael Rinella’s other designs, including Counterattack: The Battle of Arras, 1940 and Patton’s Vanguard. I particularly like these Revolution Games titles as they are perfectly sized for a rainy afternoon or a Coronatine day.

62FC8E9C-74B2-4B8F-B880-91A20727EE88Lonato (C3i Magazine #14, 2002)

This is an experiment. I am not a Napoleonic wargamer but I enjoyed Jours de Gloire: Battle of Issy, 1815 in C3i Magazine #32. Although an older title, Lonato should be useable with the Jours de Gloire rules from Issy. It might take some work to kludge it together, but if there is one thing coronatine has delivered it’s time to work projects like this one.

BONUS! The game includes a printed a copy of the Triumph & Glory Rulebook v2 (Dec. 18, 2001) in the bag. Lonato was made expressly as a module for the Triumph & Glory rules which eventually evolved into Jours de Gloire. Looks like I have a very good jumping-off point!


Feature image: “Family respects social distancing while playing board games.” Courtesy msn.com

Historical #wargames need history

I will always be one of the first to proclaim that wargames are great educational tools. For myself, wargames have taught me so much about warfare through history. Part of the reason Mrs. RockyMountainNavy approves of the RMN Boys and myself buying and playing wargames is that they often learn something. The first way I ofter learn from a game it to read the historical background or designers notes. Unfortunately, in this day of increasing production costs (born out of player demand for higher quality components) and internet access, I see some companies moving away from including these in a rule book. I say it is unfortunate because when historical commentary, designers notes, and a game come together it can be a magical learning experience.

21Zs4bRKTyePYBBq8zpgGQTake for instance Counter-Attack: The Battle of Arras, 1940 (Take Aim Designs/Revolution Games, 2018). The publisher’s blurb for this design by Michael Rinella states:

A critical moment came just as my forces reached the Channel. It was caused by a British counter-stroke southwards from Arras on 21 May. For a short time it was feared the panzer divisions would be cut off before the infantry divisions could come up to support them. None of the french counter-attacks carried the threat of this one.” – Von Rundstedt, Commander German Army Group “A”.

COUNTER-ATTACK: THE BATTLE OF ARRAS, 1940 is a two-player game simulating the British and French attack on mobile German elements near Arras, France, on May 21, 1940. 

That is the extent of the “historical background” provided in the rule book (actually, the Von Rundstedt quote is on the website and not in the rulebook).

I admit I bought the game on the strength of it being a Michael Rinella design. I admit I bought it because the price point for a folio game from Revolution Games is attractive. I admit I like the game even without more historical background included.

However…

Understanding more about the battle greatly enhances the gameplay experience. When I found historical context in the rule book lacking, I dove into my book collection. There were a few pages in Len Deighton’s Blitzkrieg (Ballantine Books, 1979, 1980) that were very helpful but the level of detail was far above that represented in the game. I was starting to get a basic understanding of the battle, but without something a bit deeper the game was going to move to my “play it once in a long while” shelf. Other books mentioned the Battle of Arras, but again at a very high-level of discussion (often the battle is mentioned in passing).

[Many of you are shouting, “Just google it, man!” Well, if you trust Google and wikipedia then you deserve what you get.]

This past week I was in the base Exchange and passed the magazine rack. There in front was WWII History Presents: World War II Tank Battles (Sovereign Media, Spring 2019). One of the articles is Armored Strike at Arras ( or Rommel’s Panzer Strike at Arras on the cover) by Christopher Miskimon. This article almost looks like it was written with the game in front of the author. The units are the same, the locations identical. I literally was able to set up the game and move the units according to the article to see how the battle flowed.

As great as it was being able to see how the battle flowed, more importantly the article generated a greater understanding into why the battle occurred the way it did. When I first set up the map I was confused; the Germans are to the south and west of the British/French forces. Weren’t the Germans attacking from the east? Why does rule 8.3.2 Area Operational Sectors limit the Germans to operating south of the Scarpe River? Miskimon describes the overall situation:

The Panzer divisions had raced ahead, threatening to cut off Allied units and destroy them piecemeal. At the same time, the distance they had gone from their supply created an opportunity the Allies could exploit if they could move quickly enough. Success would result in the panzer units being cut off from their fuel and supply sources. The tables would be turned. A dire situation turned into a last minute victory, perhaps one big enough to turn the tide of the campaign and allow them time to consolidate and strike back. (Miskimon, p. 20)

Historically, the British battle plan was thus:

The plan of action called for the columns to move in parallel. The two columns would descend Vimy Ridge [Area 29] and move south towards Arras [Area 25], passing the town to the west. Afterward, the British would turn left and move south of Arras before forming a new line oriented toward the east. The distance for the Left Column was 18 miles. Since the Right Column would have to make its left turn farther out, it would cover 21 miles in total. The entire British force would have its right flank covered by a French armored unit, the 3rd Division Legere Mechanique. (Miskimon, p. 22)

The Germans situation called for bold action:

The German XV Panzer Corps was situated in the path of the British columns. The 7th Panzer Division under Generalmajor Erwin Rommel had a mission to isolate Arras from the west. For this purpose, it would be heading west and north into the oncoming British. Once west of Arras, the division was to seize crossings over the Scarpe River, a tributary of the Scheldt River. The 5th Panzer Division was assigned to protect the 7ths right flank through supporting attacks. The inexperienced SS-Totenkopf Division was deployed to the left flank of the 7th Panzer Division. (Miskimon, p. 22)

With these three paragraphs I already have learned so much more about the Battle of Arras that I can now play the game with meaning beyond simply looking at the Victory Conditions.

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Historical setup – or – now it makes sense!

Still missing here are designer’s notes. I fully agree with designer Volko Runke who states, ” Every model of history is built to purpose.” Understanding the designers “purpose” creates better understanding of the game design. A combination of historical background and design purpose makes game far more enjoyable for me.

Counter-Attack: The Battle of Arras, 1940 will not be moving to the lesser-played shelf, at least for a bit. In struggling to learn the game, I actually was playing using Optional Rule 18.1 Historical Setup. Now that I understand the strategic/operational situation of the battle, I feel ready to use standard rule 5.3 Unit Setup with its more free-form setup.

As much as I like this game, I wish it had included just a bit more, because a little knowledge makes a huge difference in enjoyment! I hope game designers and publishers realize this and make it a point to include both historical background and designers notes.

 

 

 

 

 

#Impulsive #Wargame Play – Counter-Attack: The Battle of Arras, 1940 (Take Aim Designs / Revolution Games, 2019)

Early in the Battle of France, German forces managed to defeat Allied forces and push them back considerably. In an attempt to shore up defenses against the rapidly approaching German advance, the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) reinforced the town of Arras.

The latest wargame to hit the RockyMountainNavy table is Counter-Attack: The Battle of Arras, 1940 by designer Michael Rinella using his Take Aim Designs imprint and published by Revolution Games. This is the next game in Mr. Rinella’s Area-Impulse System. Counter-Attack: The Battle of Arras, 1940 (CA:TBoA) takes a relatively small battle and gives it a medium-low complexity treatment that delivers a tense, see-saw battle.

CA:TBoA is the next game in Michael Rinella’s Area-Impulse System. The first game I played in this series was Patton’s Vanguard: The Battle of Arracourt, 1944. I am very happy to see that CA:TBoA is not a straight port of the Area-Impulse System as used in Patton’s Vanguard but a tailored implementation that maintains the proper balance between “known” and “tailored” game mechanics.

Thematically, CA:TBoA is a bit unusual and not what one commonly expects in an early-war Panzer battle. In CA:TBoA it is the Allies on the offensive and the Germans on their heels. This alone should make the battle of interest but what when mixed with the Area Impulse game mechanic it becomes a complex problem portrayed in a very playable manner.

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The battle is joined….

Each turn in CA:TBoA is composed of a Momentum Phase, Combat Phase, Reorganization Phases, and the End Phase. Within the Combat Phase, there is a variable number of “mini-turns” or Impulses. Here designer Michael Rinella uses time pressure to portray the ever changing flow of battle. The player with Momentum executes impulses of movement/combat actions but with each additional impulse the chance of fate swinging the momentum increases. The player can keep going until all units are Spent, the player Passes, or the momentum swings. The ever swinging Momentum is what makes CA:TBoA interesting. Once the Momentum swings your way you want to spend your units smartly and get your actions done quickly before you lose momentum. Of course, when you just need one more Impulse to finish that attack you may get it…or not.

Combat is a straight up 2d6 plus modifiers rolled for attacker and defender with the difference being expressed in Attrition Points. Assault Combat results are Repulse, Stalemate, Success, or Overrun while Bombardment Combat results only occur when the attacker beats the defenders die roll.

Each turn in the game is one hour of time and the map scale translates as roughly 1 mile for every 1.5″. This make CA:TBoA more of an engagement than a battle but the Impulse game turn mechanic highlights the fluid nature of the confrontation and forces the players to think hard about any fleeting opportunities that arise.

Victory in CA:TBoA is very asymmetrical. The Allies can win an Automatic Victory if at the end of any turn they control a pathway from the off-map sections to the south to their supply area off the north edge. The Germans automatically win if they occupy Arras and the Allies do not have units is at least two areas south of the Scarpe River. If neither side has an Automatic Victory then it is up to the Allies to hold several areas along the southern map edge for Victory Points.

Component-wise, Counter-Attack: The Battle of Arras, 1940 hits a sweet spot for a small folio game. the 17″x22″ map covers not only the battle area but has room for the administrative tracks. The counter density is low and the counters themselves are big enough to be seen clearly. The rule book is a bit strange with text very close to the edges, and there are few typos but it is not poorly done, just a bit weird looking.

I did find it strange that the Setup rules in the basic game are variable and the historical setup is an Optional Rule. I was expecting the opposite and actually played using the historical setup the first play so I could learn the game rules before I start experimenting with variable ahistorical decisions.

Overall, Counter-Attack: The Battle of Arras, 1940 is a solid little game that allows one to play out a lesser known but highly interesting scenario. In the historical Battle of Arras, Erwin Rommel dashed amongst the anti-tank and Flak guns-turned-tank killers to bolster the defense. The same can happen in this game. It is also fun to see the British and French on the offensive together (sorta). Fortunately, the game lends itself to creating a fun experience through simple, solid mechanics that capture the essence of the battle in a very playable manner.