Sunday, July 19, 2009

The Battle for the Passes: Fifth Campaign Game

On Saturday we met at Game Matrix for our fifth Mars campaign game. The usual suspects, Gene Anderson, Dale Mickel, Joe Waddington, Scott Murphy, Chris Bauermeister and I were all in attendance. Gene brought along his grandson, Matt. We had a guest appearance from WAB-meister and all around good guy Adrian Nelson. Mark Waddington, as usual, designed the land-based scenario.

In this game, the British try to change up the strategic situation. Symied in their effort to force their way into Shastapsh by way of the canal, the Brits try the ol' end around through the mountain passes. We'd played this game once before. The British really got bogged down in the high ground, and paid a nasty price, but eventually fought their way through using a flank march through a second pass to drive the Martians out of their position.

This scenario was tricky and included some great decision making by both sides. It also involved the unveiling of some new Martian gimmickry. One was the introduction of the lob cannon firing exploding shell. I rationalized the improvement of this Martian weapon with the metal carriage constructed from the wreck of the HMS Thunderer (campaign game number three) and the capture of munitions from that wreck. Another weapon we introduced was the organ gun or super sweeper. Really an earth medieval weapon, I used a venerable RAFM weapon in the game as a short range gun that was nasty but slow to load. Both weapons were surprising in their performance, though not necessarily in a good way. There was also a diplomatic maneuver in which the nomad prince captured in the canal fight was exchanged for 10 Martini-Henry rifles, and given to the unit of hill Martians that captured him. This proved to be an exceptionally good move.

The British opted for the head-first assault. The rationale for the game was that the Brits had forced marched to the valley of death (my description, nothing official) while the Martians quick-marched to oppose them. Martian forces consisted of two gashant mounted cavalry units, three legion units, two units of hill Martians, a unit of banded rifles, a medium gun and the previously mentioned secret weapons.

The game began with the limeys massing behind cover, with a massed battery on a hilltop ready to deal death to any Martians that might show their faces. The Martian units, represented only by poker chips moved to their positions. On game turn two, with forward observers in place, the Martians unleashed the first of the new uber-weapons, the improved lob cannon. With many units clustered together, just waiting to be blasted, Scott Murphy unleashed the first round--and promptly blew up the gun by rolling a 20 on a 20-sided die. Gack!

The battlefield was fought over a series of geographic spurs. In pre-game planning the Martian planners agreed to preserve our light troops (hill Martians and banded rifles) as much as possible while inflicting maximum casualties on the British. We immediately put a conservative, but effective plan into effect, withdrawing into the valley and maximizing Martian firepower.

For the first two thirds of the game, the massive explosion of the lob cannon notwithstanding, the Martian game plan succeeded. The British, advancing on two fronts, directly up the valley and across a ridge line was stymied. The advance into the valley, led by two subject Martian units as bullet catchers, were caught in a bloody crossfire by the organ gun and Martian infantry. However they did hold things together long enough for British regulars and artillery to catch up to them.

On the ridge line, the Martian positions were held by the Martini-wielding hill troops. Aided by a unit of gashant lancers the hillmen made no less than five successful charges, driving off sepoys and British regulars. The gashants made two terriffic charges, driving off one unit and then another, but were shot away. Things were looking bad for the Martini/hill troops as the British massed to take crush them. Brits began ascending the hills surrounding them, their only hope was skedaddle.

At game's end (when I had to leave and take my toys with me,) Mark awarded the British a victory. I think we could have prolonged things longer, but the last third of the game we simply hadn't hit as well as in the first parts of the game and the British were moving to a position where their superior firepower would have produced unacceptable losses. I thought it was important to preserve our forces-it is a campaign-and frankly I thought we gave a lot better than we got. We could haul off the medium gun and organ gun, and our draft grohsks hauled off the wreck of the lob cannon for major refit. The Brits were in no position to pursue with any speed, and we could justify another place for a defensive stand.