It's what you've all been waiting for -- the rematch of S2 War of the Rats between myself and ASL Life Partner(TM) Prawn. If you missed the first War of the Rats check it out here.
Since I'm feeling a little poetic in the midst of the snow and Christmas holiday I think I'll mix things up a bit in this AAR...
Private Demidov nervously clutched his rifle and fingered the safety. His superior officer had already "briefed" him with a hearty slap on his back and a hoarsely whispered, "Shoot them when they come, Demidov!" Demidov wondered if this Christmas would be his last... here in the rubbled buildings on the southern flank of the city named after the master of the state...
Demidov was spread out in the ruined building north of the old church with his fellow squadmates. They were to be the blunt front end of the defense of this small sector of Stalingrad. He'd already seen many of his comrades fall against the German war machine. With their backs to the Volga, Demidov's company knew that action would be imminent. Word was that there was only a small chance of a reserve being made available to them... The young private wondered if it was more propaganda from his commissar or wishful thinking.
In the shot above was the initial set-up. The Prawn was keen to try a modified defensive set-up and I'll try to detail it here. In (X), (Y) and (Z) he placed a conscript squad forward in a building to try to both draw fire and blunt any initial pushes. The German side would obviously be loath to take the bait and pour too much fire into these simple conscripts but moving up next to them we would still have to respect the doubled point-blank fire they could muster. I suspect that (X) and (Y) were primarily squads meant to slow me down as much as possible (the former having their sole MMG and each having a leader for rally purposes). Group (Z) seemed to be the more respectable defense -- I think that the Prawn was hoping to hold out longest here and apply his reinforcements there when they showed up. What the Prawn was most afraid of was my Flamethrower -- with good reason, that thing is a roving barbeque machine. Ignoring the +3 TEM of buildings in an urban map is pure comedy gold.
As for my set-up, the Germans in (A) and (B) were the elites with first-line back-up and toting LMGs. The FT was in stack (C) where there was least resistance crossing that deadly street. Stack (D) was an elite squad who would smoke hexes for stacks (E) and (F) to end run around and take that flank.
They all looked at each other. They had all heard it. The German command had been barked out across that bloody street and quick and deliberate movement was seen through the sudden rain of smoke grenades. Demidov's breath grew shallow as he pressed his rifle to his shoulder and flicked the safety. The distinct sound of a German MG42 accompanied by the whizzing of bullets across the face of the house he was hiding in made him duck his head. They were coming...The action in the scenario can basically be divided into the battles on the northeast and southwest flanks. On the northeast side the FT detachment was slowly encrouching from the west while the main thrust by MG and DC supported squads advanced across the very very bare street. Two rolls for smoke in the NE zone came up nada and the Germans made a desperate push. Both (A) and (B) stacks were repulsed with broken squads but not before breaking the conscripts in (X). The conscripts in (Y) were vaporized by the FT.
In the SW zone a variation of the action occurred. The smoke here did work but an end run by (F) resulted in a shot up broken squad who ran back to the building they came from. The nice leader-led stack was able to break up the Russian leader stack (again from Prawn's Final Protective Fire barrage breaking his own men) but the super-conscripts in the front building broke them in turn. An 8/-2 roll on the IFT is very scary when you're on the receiving end.
Demidov couldn't believe it. He was still alive. The smoke made it easy to tell where the Germans were coming from but it was not a trivial task to still hold his bladder and pull the trigger when the ominous shapes of men grew from the shadows. His lonely squad was once again on its own -- the scouts on the broken rooftops had yelled down that the insipid lieutenant in the adjacent building had already run back to the church with his men and the machine gun. And now, it had started to snow... A beautiful sight juxtaposed with the crimson in the street and groans of the fallen.
For the first part of the scenario, the Prawn and I rolled a lot of eleven's and boxcars. It was actually pretty comical for a bit. I've photographed the offending dice to document to the Dice Gods that yes, it was funny the first three times in a row, not so funny the next few times. Time to buy a dice tower!
Above: The view around the mid-game from the Prawn's perch. Note the incredibly bad job of defense by the farmboys of the Ukraine.
To be honest, the Russian defense was a lot harder to crack than the first game. It was clear that the Prawn had done quite a bit of thinking for this rematch. At the end of turn three in the NE zone the Germans had suffered some losses taking the easternmost Victory building when a CXed stack huffed around the back and cut off the retreat of stack (X) containing a leader, MMG and a few broken squads.
Funny ASL Moment: The Russian MMG broke (one of those boxcar rolls) and so did their squad who subsequently were eliminated by failure to rout. The funny part was the German squad that got into the hex was able to recover the MMG and then repair it. We spent a good couple of minutes joking about the Russian conscripts:
"Sir! We've broken the machine gun again! It won't fire!"
[Germans enter the broken building.]
"Herr Lieutenant, I'm not sure why those Russians didn't shoot us in the face point blank!"
"Well Corporal, it appears they didn't undo the safety..."
Funny ASL Moment: The Prawn and I think Die Hard is the best Christmas movie ever. I think though that he might have found it less funny than I when I kept channeling Hans Gruber as he read the letter from John McClane, "Ho, ho, ho, now I have a machine gun..."
The situation was getting a bit dire for the Russians in the NE. The eastern building was basically goners and the FT stack was only slowed temporarily for a turn by a broken squad. I should also mention that the arrangement of the German offense in this area made skulking unsafe -- there was literally no where safe to skulk to.
On the SW side the Russians were doing a much better job, probably aided by the amazing conscript squad which repeatedly resisted massed firepower and kept breaking my squads in Defensive Fire. I think they broke once and rallied immediately in the next RPh and came right back to laugh at me. (They inspired the Demidov story.) Below you can see that the German Wehrmarct was being stopped cold.
Demidov brushed away the dust and caked on blood from his face. It was yet another Christmas miracle, he was still alive. The German squad had advanced into his building and in the heat of battle Demidov's little band was able to hold them off in a deadly melee. Demidov's squad looked at him in amazement -- he himself had killed a half dozen of the invaders. Even the commissar was wide-eyed, "Demidov, you are true hero of the Soviet Union!" It was Demidov's turn to be surprised. What a Christmas present!
The Prawn finally triggered the Leader Creation rules in this game. A 8-0 leader was created out of a CC.
If things were going badly for Germany in the SW then the opposite was true on the other flank. As you can see below, one squad with the fixed Russian MMG was sitting on the building awaiting the Russian reinforcements while the other stacks were also anticipating their arrival. There was no way the elite Russian squads were going to come through on this side of the board (and the Prawn objected on the moral grounds that he wouldn't have his men killed by their own machine gun).
At the end of turn four the Russian reinforcements still hadn't arrived (nice rolling Prawn!) but all wasn't lost yet. The SW zone was still being tenaciously defended by Demidov's super-conscript buddies. (Everyone else were broken and ELRed multiple times.)
He actually started to believe he might survive this firefight. Demidov allowed himself the hope that this Christmas would see him live to fight another day -- better yet, live to enjoy the simple comforts of a warm fire and the company of his family. That's when he heard the sound of another German officer extorting his troops forward. Would it ever end? Demidov took one last look around the hunkered down troops around him. Who would live? Who would die? Here, in the bombed out, burned out remains of an apartment buildling in Stalingrad? And then the fear began to constrict him again...
Alas, the Russian defense of the SW flank ended all too abruptly when the super-conscripts finally failed their morale check in the face of the German superstack. In fact, another German leader and supporting squad with LMG had infiltrated the victory building from the other side of the map (where they fell in CC but not before breaking a few more squads and scaring the Prawn). By the way, do you see the Russian reinforcements? Me neither!
I think this above picture says it all.
Here's the board position at the very end of the game on turn 6. The Russian elites finally showed up and were mercilessly gunned down in the SW area as they crossed the open fields. The other Russian squads had all evaporated from failure to rout or routing off the board. Here's the magnificent defense that awaited the reinforcements: (A) first-liners with a Russian MMG; (B) Elites with a LMG; (C) Leader with two squads, a LMG and FT; (D) Leader with squad and MMG; and (E) squad with LMG.
We hashed out the scenario again and here were some preliminary thoughts:
- Die rolling was atrocious but even.
- Did I say die rolling was even? The Russian reinforcements were late again!
- Super-conscripts were amazing, though even in the end they faced the music.
- Stalingrad, with all deference to the reality of war, is a fun place to play ASL.
Demidov woke on a hard cot. He remembered firing and firing and running out of bullets. He remembered running. He remembered getting shot in the calf as he reached the trees. He half-remembered someone pulling him over their shoulders. And then he remembered nothing.
He thought he heard the soft singing of a Christmas carol but doubted himself. There would be no overt shows of religion here in the very battleground where Soviet Communism strove mightily against the fascists. And yet, as he looked up through the open rafters of the triage centre he couldn't help but hum a little Christmas tune, glad to be alive and glad, perhaps, to be able to fight again...