Saturday, May 31, 2008

The Battle for Bastogne

Friday, several of us gathered to play our first Memoir '44 Overlord Scenario. The setting was part of the Battle of the Bulge, specifically the siege of Bastogne (in Belgium). The scenario did not actually involve Bastogne itself, but rather the German effort to capture the area south of Bastogne, thereby closing the ring around Bastogne and (hopefully) leading to the subsequent elimination of the American 101st Airborne forces within. As the German Panzer divisions moved south to capture Sibret and Assenois, two small villages south of Bastogne, American infantry and armor moved from the south and met them head-on to try to stop them, and the resulting battle was fierce and devastating for both sides. Perfect for Memoir '44!

First to 12 VPs is the winner. So, the Allied forces, commanded by Steve while I acted as the field general of the right and left wings, started by quickly taking the village of Remagne and moving into Moircy (which happened in real life), with each of these villages worth a victory point for the Americans as long as they could control them. The Germans, with Ben in command and Ted running the right and left wings, pushed the Allies out of Remagne and took Moircy right back (which also happened in real life). To the west, the Germans used the momentum of their supporting armor units to swing around and flank the Allied armies. Although their attack stalled, the Germans moved forward enough (and eliminated enough Allied forces in the process) to prevent any viable counterattack and attempt to retake the villages in that area. Just to the north of this flank, German infantry dug in and entrenched themselves in a line (you can see them behind their sandbags in the upper left part of the above picture if you click on it) such that any forces that came out to attack would open themselves up to multiple simultaneous counterattacks.

To the east, the German armor advanced toward Sibret, worth up to three VPs (you can see the VP markers in the picture with the Allied tanks out in front in defense) if they could take and hold it. The 11th Armored Division moved forward and pushed them back, taking a lead in victory points at the halfway mark. As the Germans reinforced from the center and fired their artillery, they pushed back again (kind of like the style of boxing seen at the end of all the Rocky movies where they just slug each other and land haymaker after haymaker, back and forth, without putting their hands up for defense). Near the end, the Germans got to the outskirts of Sibret but slowed to take out a few heavily wounded armor and infantry units. Now the door to Sibret opened up. Although the Germans didn't have enough forces to control all of Sibret, they were close enough to march in and claim enough to be one or two VPs away from the win. Finally, in one last valiant push, the Allied armor and artillery to the east took out some of Sibret's potential captors while the armor supporting the 87th Infantry Division just to the west rolled forward and finally punched through the entrenched infantry line to get the victory!

In real life, the Americans kept the Germans from capturing their intended targets but suffered heavy casualties in doing so. The game pretty much mirrored this (Memoir '44 and "heavy casualties" usually go hand-in-hand). The Overlord rules set up a Commander who draws cards (used to determine which units get to move and attack) and hands them out to a player running sections of the board, which is divided into thirds. With only two players per side, the Commander also runs the armies in the center of the board, while the other player runs the right and left flanks with the cards that are given to them. Theoretically, the Commander is not allowed to talk to the Field General running the flanks (because he's geographically located in the center with the troops there as he commands them), so he can "wire orders" (by handing out cards) to the Field Generals on the right and left but is too far away to meaningfully discuss how to strategically execute those orders. This sounds neat in practice, but in reality doesn't work too well with only two players on each side. Instead, we found ourselves talking as a team more and more as the game went on and pointing out to each other how best to execute certain orders, even for armies that were under our teammate's control. As we played, not only was it tough to NOT talk to our teammate, it felt too contrived in my opinion. As we decided to relax and permit open planning, the game flowed better and felt like it was more fun for everyone playing, especially since we didn't have to be the "No talking!" police for the other team. So, as neat as this part of the rules sounded, it just wasn't fun and we abandoned it. Overall, though, the rest of the game was really great fun, and we'll hopefully get together to do it again soon.

EDIT: Oh yeah, this is for Steve:

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At 11:35 PM, May 31, 2008, Blogger Schifani said...

Super report. It was great fun right up until an enraged Ben tumped over the table.

At 11:37 PM, May 31, 2008, Blogger Schifani said...

Chris, you are hereby fired as my legal representative.

At 8:59 AM, June 01, 2008, Blogger Ted Kostek said...

Great session report, Chris. Especially the photos.

I probably didn't handle the Axis far left well, although I feel pretty good about the rest of the board. The final lunge toward the 3 VP town was very risky. I should have advanced one or two infantry first and then launched the offensive in that area. Unluckily, the allies has just the right cards to capitalize on my risky tactics.

Re: communication

Ben and I had no problem adhering to the restrictions. We had almost no table talk between us until late in the game. Maybe that's because engineers just aren't social; it did take me 4 weeks to meet the new person in the office next to mine. I agree that talking to your teammate is a lot more social than not. However, I think it a neat restriction that helps simulate the challenges of command and control. I like this rule, and I don't think it's a burden (see above about non-social personalities).

This game was a blast, and I hope we get more of these epic version into the rotation. It's rare for a war (themed) game to handle more than 2 players. That plus the short play time makes this a winner.

The one minor negative is the strange disconnect with reality. We have all the theme of WWII wargame, but the geography and distances are completely arbitrary. Apparently, a tank can fire accurately at a range larger than a city diameter. Great fun, but not much a simulation.

It's got me longing for some CC:E or maybe EastFront or Rommel in the Desert.

At 7:42 PM, June 01, 2008, Blogger Carlos said...

With session reports like these, you almost don't have to play the game! Great report. Thanks.


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