Patrol on the Ring Contour
One of the most interesting parts of designing a scenario or, by extension, a campaign, is the attempt to create balance which can allow both sides a (roughly) equal chance of victory. Often a simple way to do that is to “go vanilla” and keep everything quite bland. With Kampfgruppe von Luck we were faced with the challenge of moving away from the average and confronting two very powerful, but different, forces. Anyone who has faced Panzer Grenadiers in Chain of Command knows that these boys are as far from vanilla as you can get. Their two LMG teams per squad chuck out a level of firepower which is truly awesome. One of the things we wanted to achieve when writing the rules was to reflect the traits of weapons whilst keeping the system simple. You need to know that a player facing an MG42 isn’t just going to shrug it off; it should be an unpleasant experience. So, two such weapons per squad, six in a platoon, can produce as much blood and guts as a chainsaw massacre.
On the other hand, British Paras are a truly professional force and an interesting one to play with. Their platoon structure allows some interesting options, with a brace of snipers and the gun section for firepower. However, most important in terms of game balance is the fact that they are elite and, as a consequence, have excellent fieldcraft. In other words, they die hard.
When designing the Kampfgruppe von Luck campaign, the challenge of getting balance between these two forces, one firepower, the other fieldcraft, was foremost in our minds. The first opportunity to test this came with the opening scenario which is remarkable in that it takes place in an open field of wheat with almost no other terrain features. This plot of land was atop a rise so we treated this as a more or less flat plateau. The British have little in the way of support for this scenario, and their force is not complete as it has been dispersed when parachuting onto its DZ. On the other hand, the Germans have a complete platoon of Panzer Grenadiers and a small amount of support to select from. The table looked like this:
After the Patrol Phase we generated the following Jump-off points.
However, the British were able to halt the German advance and settled in to a pattern of blocking any German advance with accurate fire. The Germans were, at this point, seemingly happy to plug away at effective range, relying on their superior firepower. However, at this range the British were only being hit on 6’s, as opposed to the Germans being hit on 5’s and 6’s.
What was more, the two British Senior Leaders present meant that the Paras were able to shrug off shock with ease; only the kills taking their effect. Despite their firepower, this was an uneven fight.
Up to this point the Germans had been sucked into believing that the MG42 was the wonder-weapon and with six of them they could not fail. Against a high quality enemy it was nowhere near as efficient was they had hoped. Bogged down in a firefight they were going to be defeated in short order unless they did something different.
Pushing forward on their right, a squad of German infantry began to manoeuvre round the British flank. Instantly the game changed. The British were obliged to split their force to deal with this new threat.
Now the German commanders differed on what to do. Von Panda seized the moment and ran forward to reduce the range, following up immediately with a hail of grenades and a rush forward to assault the weak British force which had been left to face them off.
They swept over the hedge, killing all of the defenders. Immediately the Paras counter attacked, but in the face of two MG42s, this desperate move was only ever going to result in mutually assured destruction.
From a campaign perspective it was clear that these two very different forces, with their own strengths and weaknesses, were well balanced. More importantly, from the perspective of the campaign, it would be the issue of attrition which would, and should, make the difference over five or more games. Trying to win whilst retaining a force in being was what the campaign would be about, and this presented a dynamic we could explore within the campaign rules.
Equally importantly, this game really showed up the importance of fire and movement. Many wargamers approach a game such as this by seeking to deploy all of their forces as quickly as possible, and then advance to a firefight and sit there plugging away until one side or the other wins. This makes for a boring game and it also is a tremendously high-risk approach. You may as well toss a coin to see who wins, and even then the winner can expect to lose significantly in the process. The importance of combining fire and manoeuvre could not be better illustrated then by the way this game progressed. It is manoeuvre which make a position untenable and obliges your opponent to withdraw or face an unequal fight. Had the Germans pushed up on the right from the outset, then the British would have been obliged to withdraw earlier. As it was, the victory was as close to pyrrhic as you can get. The German 1st platoon lost ten men dead in total. However, the Paras lost 11 dead and 6 man have had to be taken back to the chateau where they need medical attention. So that is 17 men down for the next scenario, if anything an even more disastrous result. Chain of Command equips the gamer with all he needs to use proper fire and manoeuvre tactics: overwatch, covering fire and tactical movement, and this game shows how it can be a game changer when used properly (eventually).
At the end of the first game, Hans von Luck is a happy man, although his troops are not happy about the level of losses they suffered to prise a mucky old field from British hands; this doesn’t bode well for future actions. At platoon command level the victory is seen as acceptable and the Germans are happy with their performance. On the British side the Colonel is disappointed, as are the men, but both seem stoic about losses. The platoon commander is content with what was achieved.