Posted 28 Jan 2006
Crossfire recommends up to 3 tanks in a game, so Rich Wilcox was thinking - shock horror - of exploring other rule sets to allow him to put more kit on the table. I asked why Crossfire wouldn't work, and suggested we try a tank heavy scenario to see if it worked. This is the battle report, be sure to look at the scenario as well.
Aside from being an opportunity to field lots of tanks, this game was also an opportunity to try out a few special rules for armour:
- Russian Armour doing Hens and Chicks, i.e. a particular Russian platoon could move or shoot, but not both. This represents the "Follow Me" command and control approach of the Russian Tankers.
- Group Firing Anti-tank guns.
- Different LOS rules for infantry and vehicles. Basically Vehicles could see, and be seen over, fields. Infantry could not see other infantry over fields.
- Tanks, and guns on a higher contour, can shoot over infantry that are hidden, in entrenchments, or ground hugging.
- Hidden troops are not automatically revealed when they fire. They are only revealed if they throw a one on any dice when firing.
- Vehicles are rated for Speed (1, 2, 3).
- Vehicle machine guns fire separately from the main gun, and a single can Group Fire it main gun and machine guns.
- Revised ACC so ACC is either +1 (anti-tank guns), 0 (most tanks), -1 (tanks with insufficient crews in the turret and infantry anti-tank weapons).
- Infantry anti-tank weapons get +1 in close combat with vehicles, but only one infantry squad can close assault each tank.
The combination of hidden anti-tank guns, with good ACC, who can group fire, and who are only revealed when they throw a one, was potentially quiet potent - Rich had suspicions it was going to be too potent. Similarly, I was a bit concerned about the limitations imposed by the Hen and Chicks rule. And neither of us knew what it would be like with masses of tanks - we had a suspicion that the game would see-saw quickly as tanks blasted at each other. Read on to see how it worked out.
Set Up & Plans
As the defending Russians I deployed hidden. My general strategy was to deploy the three anti-tank guns (ATG) platoons in nests (clumps) so they could group fire. The 76 mm and 57 mm ATG were placed where they had big fields of fire - the 76s on the left, the 57s in the centre. In contrast I deployed the 45 mm ATG on the right flank, controlling a very limited approach route - I didn't fancy their chances against any serious opposition. My two rifle platoons were interspersed with the ATG just in case Rich sent his infantry in on foot. All stands in fields were in entrenchments. One of the 57 mm guns was on the hill at the back, as was the FO for the off table 82 mortar and my HMG.
In the first imitative Rich's Germans moved on table in two groups. As we were used to the standard Crossfire complement of up to 3 tanks the masses of armour was quite impressive.
Rich sensibly edged his tanks forward through cover.
Not wanting to expose my ATG until I had a clear shot, I let him roll on until he was in view of a full ATG platoon and in the open ...
First blood was on the German left. A Panzer succumbed to my platoon of 76 mm guns on the far side of the table. With tanks being visible over fields my guns had a very long field of fire.
Luckily none of my guns were revealed (by throwing a one) so Rich was forced to continue his blind advance.
Two nil for the Russians! Another Panzer, this time in the middle of the table, fell victim to the 76 mm platoon.
Unfortunately one of the guns was revealed. This started a pattern that continued for some time - a Panzer was knocked out, a Russian ATG was revealed then destroyed, a Panzer was knocked out, etc.
The next big kill was Rich's Tiger, which incautiously advanced into the clear area between two fields. Once in the open it was fair game to my 57 mm platoon.
Incautious Tiger advances
This reflected my strategy with the ATG. Reactive fire with hidden guns and only do phasing fire with the visible ones. There was some logic to this ...
- Targets in cover get -1 ACC.
- Rich always positioned his tanks in cover.
- Except when they were moving.
- Every time I shot there was a chance my guns would be revealed.
So I passed on some opportunities, but I still feel this was the best use of my guns.
The battle waged on: ATG versus tanks. Panzers burned and guns were smashed.
Eventually Rich pushed up to my trench line and my first infantry were revealed. To be honest they played little part in the game (aside from a brief moment of "almost" glory to be described later).
Rich's own infantry started mounted. The Panzer Grenadiers made a dash in a Hanomag toward a wood on his left. Unfortunately, to his sorry, that is where I'd placed my 45 mm ATG platoon, and the Hanomag burned, as did a squad, with the survivors being suppressed.
I was right chuffed about that.
Russian Counter-Attack - Part 1
Eventually I rolled a 6 and my reinforcements arrived. Masses of them: SU-152s, T-34/76s, KV-1s, SU-76is and SU-76Ms, and finally a T-70 and a couple of T-60s. And some Tank Riders.
Such power must be unstoppable!!! Or so I thought.
I moved all of this lot up behind the hill and woods on my right. No point in giving Rich any free shots. But at some point I had to expose something ...
... and somehow Rich had got is Panther into a nice position covering most the table. The first victim was one of my SU-76is.
Now I faced a similar problem to the one Rich had at the start of the game. How to advance with armour when the enemy has ample anti-tank weapons. Hmmm.
As it happens the scenario rules didn't encourage me to counter-attack at all. The victory conditions were "Last man standing", and I would survive longer by staying out of sight of Rich's Panther. So, after my initial rash move with the SU-76i, I adopted a more cautious approach and massed my tanks behind the woods on my right flank.
At this point things looked pretty good for me. Although my ATG had been virtually wiped out, I now had lots of armour in the line. In contrast Rich had lost roughly half his vehicles in the battle against the guns.
Now what? Stalemate? No! Rich had advanced some tanks quite near my forward infantry. With some accurate mortar fire to drop smoke, my boys felt brave enough to venture out with Molotov cocktails. The Pz IV was in a field, so lost its close combat bonus, and my guy had his +1 PC within a stand width, and we give a +1 for close combat against vehicles if equipped with an infantry anti-tank weapons - in this case an anti-tank rifle. So I was +2 up and thought it well worth a go.
Rich got reactive fire as I came through the smoke, but being Soviets we shrugged off the Pin and pressed in for the kill.
Unfortunately Rich then rolled a 6 and I rolled a 2. So much for the infantry.
Russian Counter-Attack - Part 2
At this point it looked like a stalemate. There was no incentive for me to come out from behind my wood; similarly there was no need for Rich to advance any further.
After some discussion, we decided we needed to change the victory conditions. We plonked a couple of terrain objectives in the Russian rear (hill and house), then Rich placed an objective in a feature his troops occupied, and I did the same (in a feature he occupied), giving two objectives in each of our areas.
Now it was worth me attacking. Considerately Rich had dropped some smoke in front of the wood on my right flank and my heavy armour took the opportunity to move forward.
The T-34/76s also moved up, in this case into the wood in the centre.
One of the KVs pushed on to the field which was one of the German controled objectives..
But I was very conscious of Rich's Panther up on the ridge line at the back.
With my ATG knocked out on my left flank I rushed some light tanks around when smoke and NO FIREs made it marginally safe. They were mainly moved over there as mobile HMG, to keep the German infantry away from the objective in the house.
I was also hoping that this might facilitate me getting infantry on the flank of the Panther - a hope that was never realised.
That Panther was a real problem for me. The advanced KV was soon out of action as were a couple of T-34s.
In fact the last part of the battle saw various Russian attempts to push forward increasingly lighter armour in an attempt to knock out the Panzers.
Each Russian surge saw some Panzers burning, but in a rather gruesome trade for Russian armour. The table was quickly littered with knocked out vehicles.
Unfortunately for me Rich had adopted a very sensible defensive stance and didn't budge.
On balance Rich was starting to win this part of the battle. Three things contributed to my overall lack of success:
- The Hen and Chicks rule meant that at times I got into position to fire, but couldn't.
- Rich's Panther was at the back, with a good field of fire, and did all the shooting - both reactive and phasing.
- When I did shoot, it was phasing fire and hence directed at the lighter Panzers in front.
In a desperate bid to get his Panther, I moved my big guns - the SU-152 "Animal Hunters" - around the back of the hill in my rear. From there they'd have a limited field of fire, including the Panther but relatively few other German vehicles. I was hoping they'd reach the hedge line intact, and would then be able to pick off the one or two lighter Panzers that were visible from their new position, allowing them to subsequently take on the Panther.
Unfortunately, the Panther knocked out both assault guns as they reached the hedge line. Sigh.
At that point the armour battle had definitely swung in Rich's favour. We could have fought on with the infantry, but after five hours of gaming, we thought we'd learnt enough and packed up.
Although we could have continued to fight it out with the infantry, the tide did seem to be in Rich's favour when we packed it in. We agreed it could have swung either way, and earlier in the game it had seemed I was ahead, so on balance we think the scenario is fairly balanced.
Almost to our surprise we enjoyed the game. The terrain and table orientation pretty much demanded that the Germans plough straight into the Russian defences, and the Russian counter-attack plough straight back into the Germans. None-the-less the game was more interesting than we expected. Although there were times, particularly at the end, when initiatives were switched rapidly as tanks shot it out, this was not the case in the earlier part of the game. The major problem was that it was quite a big battle, hence slow. It took five hours to play through, with set up and pack down on top.
The map/table needs to be tweaked so the Germans can't easily get a field of fire right to the Russian base line. This will allow more redeployments during the battle.
The victory conditions do need tweaking. In the counter-attack phase of the game we spontaneously introduced objectives to get the game going again. The victory conditions we discussed were along the lines of:
- Before the game starts each player selects a terrain objective within the Russian deployment zone. Each of these is worth 3 VP.
- When the Russian reinforcements arrive each player selects another terrain objective, but this time in an feature which currently has German stands in in (but which doesn't have Russian stands). Each of these is worth 2 VP.
- When 50% of the stands of either player have been killed (counting vehicles as 2) then the game stops, add up the VP, and the payer with more is the winner.
Other things we didn't include and would consider for next time:
- More fortifications (wire, mines, bunkers) for the Russians. These had been included in the scenario description, but I forgot to put them on the map when I deployed.
- Pre-planned Bombardment for the Germans.
- Some kind of pre-game reconnaissance, so the Germans would have some idea where the Russian fortifications and entrenchments were.
The scenario could be split into two games: ATG defence and Armoured counter-attack.
We are also keen to try a different scenario with perhaps only 6 tanks a side and more opportunity for manoeuvre.
Mainly, however, the game was less about the scenario and more an opportunity to try out some house rules...
The Russian ATG defences were a hard nut to crack - and it was quite exciting for both of us as Rich cautiously advanced to contact. The combination of hidden anti-tank guns, who could group fire, and who were only revealed when they threw a one, was in fact quite potent. For a few initiatives, as the tally of knocked out German tanks quickly mounted, this combination seemed too effective. But then my ATG started throwing ones, became visible, and quickly got dispatched by the irate German tankers. On balance these rules made ATG worthwhile in Crossfire whereas before they had been pretty useless.
In particular we will definitely try hidden troops being revealed on a one again. As Tim Marshall has pointed out on the Crossfire Discussion Forum, this makes small numbers of defenders much more potent.
The revised visibility rules where vehicles could see and be seen over fields was very significant. There was a problem with the map/table in that the Germans could get a field of fire right to the Russian base line and this severely limited any possible redeployments along the back line. Otherwise the long lines of sight felt right for the tank versus tank, and tank versus gun, parts of the battle, but did seem a little odd when considering infantry. Basically my infantry couldn't move, because there was always a German vehicle with a machine gun pointed at them. Although this didn't seem so strange in the face of tanks, Rich also used his half-tracks to pin my infantry and this seemed a little odd to both of us. We, however, didn't come up with a solution.
Guards Heavy (Breakthrough) Tank Regiments:
From Oct 1942 all Heavy Tanks (KV-1, KV-85, Churchill, IS-2) were consolidated into Guards Heavy Breakthrough Tank Regiments (Zaloga & Ness, 2003). In Feb 1944, when the IS-2 started to replace the KV-1, the word "Breakthrough" was dropped from the title, making them Guards Heavy Tank Regiments.
According to Battle Front: Guards Heavy Tank Regiments these units had a high proportion of officers. Every tank has not one, but two officers in its crew when normally a platoon has just one in total! With such a high proportion of officers in the company, Guards Heavy Tank Companies can use more sophisticated tactics than most Soviet troops. They should not be affected by the Hen and Chicks special rule.
The "Hen and Chicks" special rule was quite a limitation on the Russian Armour, and was very frustrating. I often managed to successfully get into a good firing position, but then couldn't fire, and by the time the initiative swung back to me my vehicles had been knocked out. On balance, however, despite the limitations imposed, it seemed quite realistic, so we'd use this rule again. I subsequently looked back at the Battle Front page where I'd originally found this rule and discovered they exclude heavy tanks, so next time my KV-1s will be more potent.
Rich raised the fact that a -1 on Accuracy (ACC) is pretty devastating. I use revised ACC ratings so ACC is either +1 (anti-tank guns), 0 (most tanks), -1 (tanks with insufficient crews in the turret and infantry anti-tank weapons). My T-34/76s fit into this latter category and Rich noticed that I not surprisingly fired them rarely, basically as a last resort. He suggested we just treat all tanks as ACC = 0. Although appealing this would make T-34/76s too much of a match for the German medium tanks so I'm disinclined to change their stats. Similarly raising veteran (i.e. German) crews to +1 would give them too much of an advantage.
All up the rules seemed to add an interest dimension to the game and are worth using again.