1st November (All Saints Day) is a holiday in Spain, the day I finally put the ball rolling of the Vyazma or Bust! campaign in the club, played with the TooFatLardies IIWW company size rules I Ain't Been Shot, Mum! (IABSM). This was my first live-fire test with IABSM (although I've been thoroughly reading the rules over the past months), acting as umpire to a group of 5 players also new to the rules.
The similarities of IABSM to Charlie Don't Surf had its pros and its cons, as I missed some differences in detail initially (for example killed and shock results). But generally speaking the game went smoother than my initial expectations, also helped by the support of the rest of players.
Vyazma of Bust! is a full campaign booklet with nineteen interlinked scenarios, setting in Russia around the Smolensk area in the autumn of 1941. This first battle ended in a serious (and somewhat surprising) defeat of the German troops: losing two panzers, a Hanomag and suffering several kills, without making almost a single shot on the Russian troops.
Forces and Initial Deployment
The Russians forces comprised a weak-green infantry platoon and a 4 x ATG section reinforced with a section of four tanks (1 x KV1 and 3 x T-26) that have to defend a critical bridge in the rearguard of the Russian lines. The tanks are short of fuel and the ATGs also suffer from limited ammunition supplies.
The German forces (veteran and high moral) were a motorised kampfgruppe made of two infantry platoons and a weapons platoon (3 MMGs, 2 mortars and 1 flamethrower), reinforced with a Panzer platoon (4 x Pz III); the mission was to secure the road to the bridge over the river, the entry door to a blitz advance towards Moscow.
The Russian deployed initially in hidden positions to the north of the hills in the map. The Germans entered in blinds anywhere through the southern edge. The initial positions can be found in the following map.
I have only indicated the Red Army units that saw action in the game. The unit on the left hand is the tank section, in camouflaged position at the edge of the woods; the other two Russians units are a couple of ATGs, also hidden.
The German planned to send two recon (dummy) blinds through the wood in the southwest edge of the table and try to spot the positions over the hill and at the edge of woods across the road. The idea was to sweep the road and eliminate any opposition, in order to comply with the scenario victory conditions
However, the German recons failed to uncover any enemy units and, on the contrary, they were quickly spotted by the hidden Russians, as soon as they moved out of the woods. The first German unit (an infantry platoon on foot) was quickly deployed on the table.
Failing to observe any enemy around, this infantry unit decided to make a dash towards the nearest hill, which prompted a quick reaction of Russian tank section that charged over the relatively defenceless Germans moving in open terrain.
The Germans made a hasty defense line along the slope of the hill...
...and a bloody exchange of fire at short distance took place over the following turns between the steel and flesh warriors, obviously the infantry suffering the most. At the same time, the Germans launched the remaining two blinds (the second infantry platoon and the Panzer platoon) to the right of where the battle was taking place...
...only to be ambushed seconds later by the Russian ATGs...
...who blew a PzIII into pieces with their first shot and disabled the gunsights of a second tank with their second shot.
The motorised German infantry platoon were also caught in the flank...
...this time by the gun of a beastie KV1.
The surviving panzers tried to manoeuvre and to get out of LOS of the ATG, but in the following activation, the KV1 moved into an advantageous position, blowing up a second Pz III with one shot.
The Germans had by now all their forces committed, the armoured platoon reduced to half strength, one infantry platoon virtually hors combat and the remaining motorised infantry platoon in dire straits.... the German players conceded defeat.
The last turns of the game and the final positions in the battle are illustrated in the following map:
A divided opinion among the players as you can imagine, with some finding the scenario unbalanced and others who thought the rules were biased. The fact that the Russian tanks had four cards for activation (one for each machine) vs. 1 of the Germans (enabling the activation of the whole platoon) was seen as an advantage to the Russian; I don't agree, I think the Germans had higher flexibility. Also, in my very personal opinion the move of the German panzers was too risky, charging in open terrain without attempting to spot potential threats ahead, bumping with two ATGs strategically located enfilading the road.
What we probably did wrong was to allow the Russian to choose a tank each time the activation card was drawn and not to assign a specific machine for each card, but again I don't think that would have changed the overall development of the game (although it may have saved the motorised infantry platoon some suffering).
The Russians were also very lucky with the cards drawn. There card deck included a "petrol shortage" and a "ammunition shortage" cards but they never came out across the game before the tea break.
Some players also found the Tea Break card coming out too often. We are to test using 2 break cards in our next game.
Finally, compared to Troops, Weapons and Tactics, I think this rules provide a faster game and cover a wider range of tactical situations. I'll probably need to invest some more time in learning the details, as I did with Charlie Don't Surf, but it is clear that thanks to this campaign I will accelerate in my learning curve.
Looking at the AARs on Vis Lardica, at time of writing, the recorded results so far are as follows:
Draws: 1 (maybe a minor German victory)
Soviet Wins: 3 (one clear victory, two incredibly Pyrrhic victories)
German Wins: 3
Which makes things fairly even so far!