From Greg (with cheezy photo editorial by Curt):
Greetings again challengers! I encourage you to put down your brushes (particularly Ray and Tamsin - give a guy a chance!) and enjoy my final guest post AAR from operation Wacht Am Wascana, my recent trip to Regina. We had already played 15mm Golan Heights 1973 and two rounds of 28mm Colonial Sudan. For our last game I had brought along a small (literally) contingent of miniatures for a game system that Curt and I count among our favourites - Spearhead.
Spearhead is a division-level game, with each model or base of models representing a platoon of infantry or tanks, or a battery of guns. The maneuver elements are battalions - groups of nine to twelve platoons, depending on nationality, period of the war, scenario circumstances etc.
Spearhead requires that players come up with a battle plan, with written orders for each battalion. This is a great check on the player's "helicopter view" of the battlefield, and changing these orders is not always easy - again dependent on nationality and what period of the war. If your battalions end up on the wrong side of the table, you will not easily scramble them over to the other side.
This game was a small one, set in the summer of 1942 in the opening period of Operation Blau, the German drive on the Caucasus region (we all know how that worked out in the end). It was derived from a much larger scenario from the book scenario book "Where the Iron Crosses Grow" - that is a great book, but the scenarios in there assume players have entire divisions of models at their disposal.
We used a 4' x 4' table. The Germans had a panzer battalion and a schutzen battalion, and they were confronting a Soviet armoured brigade (three tank battalions and an infantry battalion) which had been ordered to counter attack them. Victory conditions were simple - the Soviets won if they broke one of the German battalions. The Germans won if they broke two of the Soviet battalions. I played the Germans and Curt played the Soviets.
The game last about seven turns before the victory conditions were met - by Curt (!@!@!!). It had all been going so smoothly too - my schutzen lads moved into the middle of the table while my panzers darted around the flank with a panache that would have impressed Guderian himself. The panzers rolled up one of Curt's tank battalions and were descending on the heavily exposed flanks of his other units.
Victory was in sight, and my panzer crews were practicing their thank-you speeches for the Iron Cross ceremony that was sure to follow.
But then all of a sudden Curt managed to change his orders. For THREE of his four units. This NEVER happens for Russians. You may recall I mentioned that in Spearhead you have to draw up a battle plan, and then stick with it - and changing orders depends on period and nationality. Well the early war Russian player - even though they get tons of kit to cover the table - can almost never change orders for their maneuver elements, even with the intervention of higher command. You needed to roll a '6', or at least a '5' if the brigade commander is taking a hand. But the bugger pulled it off...
This meant my comfortable little Schutzen lads were confronted with a Stalin-level "uuuurrrahhh!" as the Soviet tanks and infantry surged forward. To add to the mayhem, Curt hot-rolled with his battalion mortars - I lost my MG platoon - ouch - while my mortars fired blanks. My lads blew it on the approach fire, blew it on the close combat role, and then blew it on the morale check! F***! German attack halted while division sends reinforcements over - and no doubt the German commander in question was sacked for letting this little counter attack set things back!
To Curt's credit he was a little queasy about the victory - after all the table was covered in charred BT-5s and other wrecked Soviet bits. But looking back I made a major mistake - not attaching some armour directly to the infantry! I was sure the infantry's PAK 38 battery, together with their organic anti-tank elements, would easily handle the BT-5s (which didn't even have MGs for goodness sake - Curt had to roll "6"s on a D6 to even scratch my infantry units). But treads are treads, and when they are driving over your fox hole it sucks - even if they are on obsolete tanks.
A good lesson for next time - and another reason of why I love Spearhead. It's a great example of balanced abstraction & engagement concepts in a thin set of rules. It provides great flavour for the period, and keeps players worrying about what division-level players should be worried about - "why are my orders not working!?!"
This is my final guest AAR from this trip, but it is not the last AAR for the weekend - Curt ran a game on the Friday night for the regular Regina gaming crew of which I will say no more other than it is connected to one of his many recent bonkers projects, and I was thrilled to take part! I'm sure Curt's showman instincts will provide a proper rollout here on his blog in due course...
Thanks again to Curt and Sarah for their wonderful hospitality. Five games in one weekend - now that's a weekend! Curt is visiting Winnipeg soon, and I am hoping to fire up a gaming reception to make the return visit worthwhile.