The End of All Things - Cold War Megagame AAR (Part 2)16 Sep 2016 0
This is Part Two of our after action report on the recent megagame we attended in London, UK. For more information on megagames and to read about how we got to this point, read Part One.
An Unstoppable Force Meets A Very Moveable Object
I'm actually glad I wasn't the operational player. While it would have been fun to do all of the movement, the tactical manoeuvres and dealing with the nitty-gritty stuff... given what ended up happening, I imagine I would have felt quite impotent. Our Ops guy was quite serene about the whole thing and was invaluable at providing insights that helped our strategy. He was a true Grognard and it paid off for us.
Our first priority was our HQ – it was two hexes away from the forward division of the enemy column. We had reinforcements that would deploy at the end of the turn which we could move up in support but not before the enemy column would move. The WP side always had initiative in terms of player order & actions, except when a NATO card said otherwise. Luckily the German Territorial Army was mobilising and one unit was deployed on our HQ in time to make a fighting retreat. They fell back to the town of Soest and would remain there for the rest of the game, unmolested.
My initial fear was that the column would move onto the Autobahn along the northern edge of our AO and rush towards the Rhine via Düsseldorf and Essen. Instead, the column moved south behind Kassel and then swung west again along the smaller roads around Korbach.
From there they pushed onwards between the two rivers and made it as far as the crossing at Siegen at the bottom edge of our AO before going over that crossing and moving south. Their forward elements actually ended up being 2-3 hexes away from the Rhine at one point and I was sure that the WP player could reach the river if they gave it one more push. They never did. This was towards the end of the game, however, and the column had been surrounded and cut-off from their supplies for a while now. They could barely keep fighting and needed to burn A LOT of helicopter resupply cards just to keep going.
Our fight in the forests east of Cologne was a weird one. The BE Corps got stronger and stronger as the game progressed as more of our units arrived on the field and we were rarely in a position where we couldn't form a blockade in front of the soviet column. The problem was, the column kept marching onwards no matter what we did!
We had a good Ops player and we used what assets we had to the best advantages. Still it was puzzling to me how our units were being brushed aside so easily. Similarly, the fact that this column kept advancing regardless of the fact that they were in danger of being cut off was baffling. When it actually was cut off, and yet could keep marching on regardless without losing units, the situation felt a bit farcical.
The problem, I eventually realised, was that we'd under-estimated the asymmetrical design of the game.
I've talked a lot with the designer Rob Cooper about this post-game, and our Ops guy explained it quite well at the time. Though I fear I've forgotten a lot of the finer details, it comes back the differences in strengths and capabilities.
Remember, the basic soviet unit was larger than ours – their divisions had more health and more punching power, with drawbacks being they couldn't stack together as easily. Still, they got to move regardless of whether they were in contact with a NATO brigade (we had no Zone of Control, however all WP units did) and they didn't take any damage while moving past. While thematically most of this made sense, in practical terms it really hampered what the BE Corps (and NATO generally) could do.
Another design feature, it must be noted, was to make our corps deliberately weaker than other NATO units. That in itself wasn't an issue though – there is an allure at being underdogs and we gave it our best.
But it meant we couldn't really attack back – the combat calculations just weren't in our favour on the offensive because the losses they'd suffer would kill our units off quicker than it would the WP divisions. It would be a war of attrition we just couldn't win. The one weakness of individual WP divisions was that once you'd knocked down their first 'bar' of health they got significantly weaker, which would have allowed us to counter-attack without fear of annihilation, but it was quite hard to get them into that state.
The rules as written seemed quite exploitable when you start to practically apply them as well. All you'd need is for one or two divisions to take the hits from the mines or recon units (which is easy to absorb given their health) and then the rest of the army could power through regardless. The fact that they also didn't need to stop when in contact with NATO brigades meant that they could just walk on by us with near-impunity. If we ringed the hexes in front of them with units they'd only need to force one to retreat and then the rest of the army would flood through the gap.
(NOTE: Through discussion with the designer and various other players since writing, it emerged that there was a way to make better use of multiple terrain effects to do more damage, however to a non-ops person this was less visible at the time.)
Not game-breaking by any means, but certainly frustrating. It got to a point where I had to drop-character and explain to NORTHAG our problem from a mechanics perspective which seemed to go a long way to making them understand why we were struggling to contain the roaming column.
It's easy to see the intent behind all this – NATO really needed to work together and present a combined arms solution to the WP invasion. Other NATO units, especially the Americans, possessed more punching power, and NATO air-support was a lot better. It's a testament to how well the WP kept us off balance (and nearly-crippled our Air presence) that it took us so long to bring all these pieces together. I remember clearly one battle where we actually got some B-52's in to support. With a CAS value of 8, they wrecked everything.
The lack of air-support was mainly felt in hindsight. The air war and the ground war seemed quite separate and after the disastrous situation at turn 0 the commander of the air forces prioritised deep strike missions to stop further reinforcements entering the theatre. It wasn't until the end of the game that the NATO air forces were starting to turn the tables (which is roughly when we got use of the B-52's), but for most of the game I wasn't really aware of their impact on the game (which is not a slight on Darren or the rest of his team, just an observation).
It was tough going, but we were by no means the only ones having a rough time. CENTAG seemed like it was collapsing at a pretty rapid rate and was falling back quite rapidly. The British actually managed to extradite themselves from their predicament around Hannover and regrouped to stabilise the line north of us along the Weser. Even the GER (III) corps seemed to be hanging in there. Our war was solely concerned with this roaming column and our efforts to stop it reaching the Rhine.
Despite all our efforts though, nothing could prepare us for what came next.
The third and final part of our Cold War megagame AAR will be on Monday. Have a good weekend!