Somehow, by the vagaries of convention preregistration and events that cancelled, I ended up in two consecutive games of Battlefront WWII at Council of Five Nations. I don't normally play this ruleset, and though my previous convention experience was a disappointment (due to scenario design, not the rules!), I was eager to give Battlefront WWII another try.
This is the report from game #1. Here's the program book's description:
88's in the Desert * Battlefront WWII
Game Master: Robert Rowe * 6 Players * Mature18
DAC guns hold against desert rat assault. Beginners encouraged.
I was five minutes late to the game, so they slotted me in as the assistant German player and gave me command of the supply dump defense force. From my briefing sheet:
German - Movement Element 2 (Green & White)
As part of a battery of 88's you are assigned to provide indirect fire support and to anchor the right flank for this offensive. Your right is anchored to an area of deep desert with impassable soft sand. An armored car reconnaissance section will screen your front and warn of any British activity.
Shortly after midnight, a light wind started blowing up dust (visibility reduced by one increment). The reconnaissance commander notified you that they will halt mobile patrolling and establish listening posts to secure your forward area.
Due to your resolve all units gain +2 to morale checks.
Security Group at Supply Dump/HQ
- Infantry Kommander mounted in SdKfz 251/10 command half-track
- Infantry and LMG mounted in SdKfz 251 half-track
- Infantry and LMG mounted in Krupp-Protze 1.5 ton truck
- SdKfz 221 (28mm LePzB 41) armored car
- Opel Blitz 3-ton truck
Armored Car Reconnaissance Section
- SdKfz 223 MG armored car with radio
- SdKfz 222 armored cars (2)
Hold the flank in case of an assault and do not lose the 88s.
- Infantry Kommander mounted in Kraftrad (motorcycle)
- Infantry and LMG mounted in Opel Blitz 3-ton truck
- SdKfz 233 75mm L/24 armored car
- SdKfz 231 armored cars (2)
I was excited to see that I had an armored car reconnaissance section, and asked the GM where they were. He said they would enter as reinforcements later. (The "other" reinforcements, I suppose! ) Darn!
I never did get the full situation briefing, but apparently that "area of deep desert with impassable soft sand" wasn't so impassable after all - our line of four 88s were lined up facing off-table along one long table-edge, and the British were arriving from the far corner of the table. My supply dump was in the middle of the table.
My "commander" was a fellow from a rural area of upstate New York, who was excited to be at Council of Five Nations this week, and then going to Fall In next week! (He was so excited that I had to remind him a few times not to move my forces...) He had never played Battlefront WWII before. He was our overall commander, and directly commanded four 88 gun-positions and associated infantry.
There were four British players, including at least one experienced player (a friend of the GM) and two novices (one was a friend of my partner).
The GM had taken the datacards for Battlefront WWII, laminated them, and mounted them on stiff plastic. I thought this was great, as we could handle the cards without risk of damaging them. The only downside was that there weren't any duplicate cards, so players had to hand the datacards around (especially since the British had some captured German equipment).
The battlefield was featureless, except for a slight ridge running up to the rear of our first 88 position. All German units began the game off-table, and would be revealed as the British spotted them...
...which began immediately, as two British scout vehicles raced ahead and revealed two of our 88 positions, one of my trucks, and "something out there" (the supply dump).
(The rules allowed targets to be partially identified - that is, you knew something was there, but you didn't know what it was. The GM marked these targets by placing blank bases on the tabletop.)
I did mention that our guns were all facing the wrong direction? (It would take one turn to crank them around.) And the defending infantry was located "behind" the gun?
My "commander" emphasized that my mission was to "hold the flank" - translation: keep the British from exiting anything off the "German" side of the opposite end of the table. I proposed to do that by entrenching my supply dump troops in place, to provide an obstacle for the advancing British. (I didn't think it was safe to load up my troops and reposition in the face of the advancing British, not to mention having time to dig positions after I moved.) I began to send my trucks to the rear, as I had no need for them.
At this point, the GM intervened and told me that I needed to retreat with my troops. My "commander" then "ordered" me to retreat and form a new defensive position all the way at the far end of the game table. I reluctantly agreed as I figured the GM knew the rules better than I did (and what was practical). I asked if I could "un-move" my truck in accordance with my new information. The GM said 'no', so I had one truck out in the desert by itself.
And then the German 88s began to fire...
...taking out a tank...
...and forcing a forward observer to bail out from his destroyed scout vehicle.
The British next continued their advance, spotting something new...
...which was marked by a glass marker. (The GM switched at this point to using glass markers for "possible targets.") This was the location of our third 88 gun-position.
Our third gun position then chose to reveal itself by opening fire...
...and was placed on the tabletop as fully revealed.
The British began firing on the 88s, and the GM marked which tanks had fired by placing whitish tufts on them. (I didn't hear the explanation why.)
Meanwhile, the British set up their mortars on the ridge, with clear sight to all of the 88s revealed so far.
Now the British advanced again - even racing a command vehicle right into one of the German gun-positions, and debarking a commander to attack the gun crew! This took one 88 out of the fight, at least temporarily... (More German suspected targets were marked on the table.)
In the German turn, we still had two functional 88s on the table, but they failed to hit anything. Meanwhile, my supply dump force revealed itself...
...while my "commander" counter-attacked at the first gun position...
...but the gun crew decided to flee...
...while my armored car destroyed a scout vehicle that was racing past...
...before my group raced away to the new defensive line...
(And my empty truck diverted to load and transport some infantry from gun position #3, also heading for the new defensive line.)
The British now advanced to assault the infantry at gun position #1 (the one with the abandoned gun)...
...and continued their advance elsewhere, now spotting an armored car (which my partner had moved into the supply dump position)...
...and deployed infantry to attack our second gun position.
Back to the Germans: Our 88s had been singularly unsuccessful at knocking out the British tanks. My partner grumbled about a poor scenario, while the GM (and his friend on the British side) offered the consolation that normally the Germans would be knocking out two tanks per gun per turn! (This didn't comfort my partner!)
At least our fourth gun position was now in range, and revealed itself by opening fire and knocking out its first available target (a truck).
My "commander" changed his mind, and decided that we'd better make an effort to defend the 88s. He "ordered" me to reverse my retreat and redeploy around the third 88 gun-position...
...while our armored car reconnaissance section arrived (barely visible to the left in the photo above), coming onto the table directly behind gun position #2. (The unit is on my player sheet, but for some reason the GM gave it to my partner - perhaps because he was grumbling about the scenario?)
...but it doesn't matter, because a lucky British artillery strike kills two of the three vehicles.
The British advanced against our second gun position.
(About this time, my partner noticed that the GM had just skipped a German firing phase. Was this happening earlier, and might explain the lack of success of the 88s? If there's one thing a GM needs to get right, it's the order of play.)
During the next German turn, the GM told my partner that he had the option to "scoot and shoot" with his 88s. (I think this was a house rule, but I don't know why he didn't tell him of this option earlier in the game!) My partner decided to pack up gun position #3 and make a run for it. Yes, the same position he ordered me to move to defend last turn. So I swung my "caravan" back around again! (At this point, my "commander" advised me to "do what I thought best" for the rest of the game...)
At this point, one of the British players began to complain. He said he didn't want to play any more and "waste time" if the game was a "foregone conclusion." (The GM and his friend reminded him that the British hadn't achieved their victory conditions yet. He kept playing.)
Meanwhile, the British shot and immobilized the fleeing 88. (Another player was now very unhappy...)
But maybe I would finally get a chance to fight. My infantry finally deployed (rather hastily) in a line in front of the remaining 88 gun-position and dug in, my vehicles sought hull-down positions (I think this was another of the GM's house rules), and the "other" reinforcements raced in!
(The GM had now switched to a "two color" marker system for targets - green were real, gold were dummies, and only the Germans knew which color was which.)
The British kept coming on! The first two 88s were overrun, the stranded 88 was destroyed...
...while the last 88 failed to damage anything - it was only scoring non-killing results, and nothing that slowed the British down. (The GM and his friend told my partner to be patient until the British were closer.) At least the British players were having to cope with a shortage of softskin transport vehicles to redeploy their infantry...
The GM now gave me some advice: My SdKfz 231 armored cars had no real chance of hurting the advancing Valentine tanks from their front. So when my next chance at movement came up, I abandoned the hull-down positions - at which point, the GM to my surprise stopped me and asked what I was doing. I reminded him about his advice, and swept the armored cars out to the flank where they might qualify for some flanking shots.
At this point, time was up - and to our surprise, the GM declared the Germans to be the winners! I don't know what the British victory conditions were, but I suppose the Germans won for managing to "hold the flank" and still having one 88 alive. Yet I don't know what the British could possibly have done different to win - they raced down the board as fast as they were able.
Conclusions: I didn't enjoy the game very much. I didn't think the scenario had much for German player #2 to do, my partner was difficult to work with, the GM was meddlesome, and the scenario was too big for the game table in the allotted time.