This last Saturday night, I took my Protolene Khanate army out for its first run using the IABSM variant "Get Your Frickin' Tentacle Out Of My Face" or GYFTOOMF for short. For those of you unfamiliar with the Khanate, they are a truly superb range of 15mm sci-fi miniatures from Critical Mass Games consisting of three types of dog-headed infantry (Scouts, Hunters and Predators) backed by three sizes of walker (Ayame - small two-leg; Marrock - large two-leg; and then two types of simply huge four-leg walkers, this last irrelevant here as I haven't managed to work out how to build them yet!).
The GYFTOOMF rules don't give army lists: you construct them yourself from guidelines dependent on the figures that you are fielding. You can find my version of a Khanate army list here but suffice to say that the force I was fielding consisted of a Scout element, who would normally arrive first, backed by Hunter and Predator elements who would arrive as the game continued. Each element consisted of a platoon of infantry backed up by a platoon of three small walkers and a platoon of three medium walkers, with the Scouts also having some specialist snipers. Under my version of the GYFTOOMF Khanate army list, the Scouts are lightly armed and armoured but excellent at spotting; the Hunters are bog-standard infantry; and the Predators are elite infantry specialising in close combat.
My opponent, Neil, and I had decided to try an "Invasion Earth!" style scenario similar to the Harry Turtledove "aliens join WW2" series of books. Neil would therefore field a WW2 US armoured force, and we would fight over a village in northern France. I had perhaps underestimated the firepower of an American armoured company, and had given Neil eight Shermans (with the 76mm gun) and three platoons of half-track mounted infantry, plus air support and some off-table Priests. Well, just as I wanted to get as many of my Khanate on the table as possible, Neil wanted to do the same with his Americans!
The battlefield therefore consisted of a fairly large French village with a canal passing through its centre. The canal was impassable to vehicles and infantry, except for walkers of course, but there were three substantial bridges. Each side's objective was to control the crossings over the canal, which were not to be destroyed for any reason.
As the forces on each side were quite large (a company of foot plus a company of armour), we decided to feed them in gradually: three platoons of reconnaissance troops would start on each back edge, with more coming in as and when we thought it fitted the game. IABSM, and therefore GYFTOOMF, operates a Blinds system, where units enter the table concealed under Blinds, and are only revealed either when firing or when spotted by the opposition. My three Blinds were therefore the entire Khanate Scout contingent: an HQ element of snipers, and a platoon each of infantry, small walkers and medium walkers.
My Blinds advanced quickly towards the centre of the village, with Neil advancing almost as quickly from the other side. I got line of sight on one of Neil's Blinds, and was able to scan another (IABSM is card-driven: the Scan card in GYFTOOMF effectively gives you a free spot). Both turned out to be platoons of Shermans! Somewhat surprised, I queried how Neil felt he could describe his Shermans as being the reconnaissance element of his force...only to be told that this was a Market Garden style thrust with an armoured spearhead!
Now what I should have done at this point was stop whinging and get my Scouts hunkered down in cover a little bit back on my side of the canal and then called for reinforcements. If Neil attacked, my Scouts would fire from unspotted positions against tanks bottlenecked at one of the three bridges. Then, as the reinforcements arrived, I should have bolstered my position, chosen a schwerpunkt, assembled a powerful assault force and then punched over the canal using the fact that my walkers weren't hindered by the obstacle to target Neil's weakest point.
That's what I should have done!
What I actually did, of course, was move the Scouts forward close enough to the canal to take a few long range pot shots at the tanks, and thus allowed Neil's tank commanders an attempt to spot them. What I had also forgotten was that although my Scout infantry were easily concealable, a platoon of 12ft high walkers was another matter...and let's not even go there on the bigger ones. They might be good at crossing terrain, especially hedges, but 30ft high walkers take a lot of hiding.
The result was that all my walkers were quickly spotted, with all three light Ayame types and one medium Marrock equally quickly going up in smoke in exchange for a bit of chipped US olive drab paint!
Now, however, my reinforcements were arriving, the medium walker platoons from the Hunters and the small walkers from the Predators. Surely they could deal with the Shermans!
In the quiet, peaceful laboratories back at planet Khanate, the Hunter and Predator walkers had been designed for specific tasks. The Hunters were a type of mobile artillery designed to provide anti-infantry support much like medium or heavy mortars. The Predators were anti-tank, but because the models are designed with grasping hands and not large anti-tank guns, I had decided that they would be truly superb at ripping turrets off tanks when standing next to them, but hadn't actually given them any longer ranged anti-tank weapons. What this meant, of course, was that I needed to keep the Hunter walkers back at mortar kind of ranges, and wait for Neil's tanks to come to me whereupon my Predators could emerge from the gaps between buildings and rip them apart.
What I actually did (this is becoming a disturbingly familiar phrase!) was send the Hunter Marrock walkers forward to lay down covering fire for a charge with the Predator Ayame walkers across to Neil's side of the canal. It was, of course, a disaster. Two Large Hunter walkers and two Predator walkers were destroyed, although one Sherman tank did indeed have its turret pulled off...well, its main gun destroyed which led to the crew abandoning ship. The Predator walkers had actually been destroyed by an infantryman's bazooka fired at about 30 yards range as the walker was tugging away at the tank's gun: a risky tactic, but Neil and I had decided that if he missed the walker he would then re-roll to hit his own tank. At this point, Neil had actually lost more tanks to vehicle breakdown (2) than to enemy activity (1).
My final Predator Ayame walker attacked the US commander's tank, but was destroyed by another Sherman, albeit after a near miss had made the squadron commander, well buttoned up and thus unable to clearly see what was going on, fire a snap shot (that fortunately missed) at the source of fire.
Now the Khanate commander came to his senses and hunkered down to await the coming onslaught: I could see Neil's armoured infantry company moving up, awash with machine guns, armoured halftracks, bazookas and so on. My Scout snipers, meanwhile, had been doing stirring work, knocking out the US forward observer and three Big Men (IABSM's equivalent of command elements).
I was now down to my infantry (some of which had been hit by enemy artillery) and two or three walkers useless against armour. Across the bridges Neil armour came, with the main thrust taking place on my left flank. Fortunately, my last reinforcement then arrived: the Predator Marrock walkers. Whilst Neil's attention was distracted by me massing all my remaining troops for what would be a suicidal charge on his across-the-canal spearhead, I slammed the Predators up the table under Blinds and into close combat. Three Predator Marrocks verses two Shermans and three M3 half-tracks stuffed full of infantry.
It was carnage! Two halftracks and one Sherman were destroyed in the first assault: stunned infantry stumbling from the wreckage. I might not be able to get over the canal myself, but the last-minute arrival of the Predator Marrocks had saved the day!
At that point we called the battle a draw: a generous move on Neil's part as he was certainly ahead in terms of damage done. Still, the objective had been to cross the canal, and neither of us was in a position to do so now that the other had consolidated their defences.
It was a great game, played out in only about 2½ hours! I certainly learnt a lot about the Khanate forces, and am currently trying to resist the temptation to re-design my walkers: up-arming and armouring them so that they stand a chance against heavy armour at long range. But I know I won't: the challenge posed by the mix of Khanate troop types that fit to my personal 'Khanate ethos' is much more fun to play than designing them as an uber-army able to trample any opposition without pausing for breath. Not all dogs like cheese!