Friday, May 29, 2009

Third Crossfire game, bring up the armor!

I organized my third Crossfire game earlier this week. We played a small engagement inspired by Ponyri, a village that was part of the much larger Battle of Kursk in 1943. Against the backdrop of the days-long assault, a German infantry company, supported by tanks, attempted to probe Soviet positions outside Ponyri—mindful that reinforcements from the larger battle could arrive at any time. We used my 10mm WWII miniatures, plus vehicles from my World Tank Museum collection. Pardon the fuzzy phone camera image; I've consistently forgotten to bring my actual camera.

Four players showed up, so I set them up as two teams and sat back to interpret rules and referee the game as best I could. Luckily Nico, a buddy from our Savage Worlds rpg, was there, and he digested a lot of rules prior to the game. This proved immensely helpful as we began the game.

Unfortunately, the scenario was quite one-sided and ended with a bloodbath for the Germans. The Germans had two rifle platoons, two on-board mortar squads with spotters, two Panzer IIIs and two Panzer IVs. This was arrayed against two Soviet rifle platoons supported by three 45mm antitank guns, all hidden in the village. Two KV-1s were available as reinforcements after five turns.

Much of the tactical imbalance—code for "Soviet butt-kicking"—in this game was due to a less-than-thorough understanding of how the armor rules worked, and how armor differed from infantry in terms of on-board effectiveness. Chalk that up to my own inexperience with the rules.

Basically, the two German platoons advanced from the woods to the outskirts of the village and quickly ran into two dug-in Soviet platoons. They slugged it out for a couple initiatives, but several stunning die rolls virtually destroyed the German infantry before the armor could make it to the show. Likewise the on-board mortar units didn't come into play until it almost didn't matter.

In retrospect, both German players agreed that they should have moved up their tanks first and used armor and indirect fire from the mortars to recon the suspected Soviet positions. It would have taken more time, but it would have been a lot less risky and would have allowed the infantry to move in once the Soviet squads had been identified. Plus the armor action might have prompted the Soviet players to reveal their 45mm anti-tank guns in order to re-deploy them.

I had come up with this scenario on my own, but I later found that Steve Thomas had previously detailed and played a much larger scenario based on the same skirmish. I was pretty pleased to see that our two setups, despite being written for very different sized games, had a lot of key features in common.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Second Crossfire game, more 10mm WWII musings

I hosted another Crossfire game last week, this one at Chicagoland Games, the new game store that opened up just four blocks from my apartment in Chicago.

I had 3 players show up for the game, plus another who arrived after we started and provided tactical advice during the game. Since we had a lot of players, we decided to re-play my original scenario from last week (a Soviet raid against Germans protecting a StuG III in a small village) as a 2-on-2 team game.

I'd never really tried Crossfire with multiple players, and the structure of the game makes such setups kind of tough to execute—but we only played one company per side, which is still pretty small for Crossfire standards. Basically the two players on each side split control of their forces, with most players getting a platoon or two of troops to command, along with a vehicle or anti-tank gun.

We also stuffed a lot more terrain on the table, but I still felt like we could have used more. The Soviets advanced through the woods and farmland to find and disable the StuG III, which was being defended by Germans in the burnt-out ruins of a small village. The victory conditions allowed the Soviets to win if they had two infantry squads in base-to-base contact with the StuG III at the end of any initiative; the Germans, however, could win if they killed off 6 or more Soviet infantry squads.

It was a very well-balanced game, with the Germans having slightly fewer infantry troops, but more versatile support weapons (in the form of a PaK-40 antitank gun and the aforementioned StuG III assault gun). The Soviets had about a third more infantry units, and they had a single T-34/76 that arrived after Initiative 5.

The performance of vehicles in this game ran the gamut from great to terrible. The Soviets were a bit too aggressive with their T-34/76—plus we had never tried the vehicle shooting rules—and it was knocked out early by the PaK-40. The StuG III, on the other hand, managed to destroy several Russian squads during the advance—including the last action of the game, which killed a squad in the open and annihilated two adjacent squads (via the "Kill Potential" blast rule) in a single shot.

That action won the game for the Germans, as that represented their 6th enemy squad kill. It couldn't have come at a better time: the Soviets were grinding their way through the Germans' flank, chewing up squads in close combat and threatening the enemy's best-defended position. Another few turns and the game could have gone either way.

Anyway, this was another resounding success for the Crossfire rules. For our next scenario, I'm going to try out a battle that involves a lot more vehicles—maybe something with Panzergrenadiers?

Monday, May 18, 2009

First Impressions of "Crossfire" and 10mm WWII wargaming

Last week I met up with Michael (aka Chgowiz of; that's him in the photo) at Games Plus in suburban Chicago. We had resolved to try out Crossfire, a tabletop WWII game that I've owned for about a year but never played. I finally got rolling with the game after running across a hefty pile of cheap 10mm-scale German and Soviet infantry figures (to go along with my small army of 1/144-scale WWII tanks).

A couple weeks of frenetic painting later, and I was ready to go. You can see some pics of my Soviet efforts here.

Crossfire is a unique game in that it doesn't use rulers for measurement. Every unit is assumed to be within range of everything else; if you can see a target, you can try to attack it. This makes cover and positioning very important--just like in WWII.

Moreover, Crossfire doesn't use fixed game turns; rather, players alternate actions based on how successful they are in their attempts at moving, firing and rallying. Subsequent successes allow more actions--but a failure means the initiative shifts to your opponent, who is then free to implement his own tactics.

In practice, this meant that our game developed its own ebb and flow, as Michael and I tried different tactics on the battlefield. I might get lucky and score a string of successful attacks--only to fail at a rally attempt and have the initiative swing back to Michael. It was a lot of fun, because you never knew when you opponent might fail at a particular actions, which would then award you the intiative.

Perhaps most satisfying was the fact that Crossfire makes it tough to pull of "killer kombos" by stringing together multiple successful maneuvers. This particular element of game play is pretty common in Warmachine, which lets players set up devastasting attacks on their turn by layering different unit effects in a complicated string of bonuses and penalties. Not so in Crossfire--players must react on the spot to an ever-changing battlefield. It felt great.

That said, we made a few mistakes in the two games that we played. Our first duel was a simple platoon-vs-platoon learning game. We probably put out too few pieces of terrain (Crossfire calls for almost half the table to be covered with woods, hills, cities and walls) and that might have contributed to Michael's victory in that first game. Still, it helped us learn the rules and concluded fast enough for us to squeeze in another larger game, this one inspired by a scenario I'd printed off from a Crossfire resource page.

This second game featured almost a full company of soldiers per side, as well as a couple of vehicles and anti-tank guns. Again, we made a few mistakes--including overlooking the fact that my Germans were supposed to be veterans, a point that might have effected the outcome--but we had a great time overall. The game played fast and we really didn't have to spend all that much time flipping through the rulebook. The handy double-sided game reference sheet was really all we needed for most arbitrations.

Next week I'm going to meet another player up at Chicagoland Games and try out Crossfire again. This is all building toward a June 13 demo that I'll run at Games Plus for the Historical Miniatures Gaming Society.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

10mm Soviet Gallery

Here are a few photos of the 10mm Soviet infantry I just finished, along with a few shots of the relevant infantry next to my prepainted 1/144 plastic Soviet tanks. They scale pretty well, all things considered.

(All captions refer to the photo below them.)

These are Pendraken 10mm infantry figs. I based 'em on 1x2-inch metal bases, four soldiers to a base. I could have done more, especially at 10mm, but I was trying to stretch my pool of figures and do more with less. I'm thrifty that way. To represent the somewhat haphazard way Soviet troops received their individual arms, I put one submachine gun trooper with three riflemen on each base. The rightmost stand has a DT machinegunner as well. The platoon commander is based separately up front.

This is a prepainted 1/144 KV-1 from the World Tank Museum line.

This is a T-34/85 from the same line. On the whole I'm very pleased with these prepainted models.

This is a T-34/76 from World Tank Museum, along with some Soviet infantry.

This is a prepainted SU-76 from the Axis & Allies Miniatures line. Most of their tanks and vehicles are closer to 1/120, as opposed to 1/144, but certain pieces (like this tank destroyer) scale pretty well.

This is a prepainted T-70 from my Axis & Allies Miniatures collection. Again, it scales pretty well despite not being designed for 10mm modeling.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Why I'm Avoiding Flames of War

Collecting and playing with 10mm-scale WWII miniatures represents a fairly conscious decision on my part to avoid Flames of War, the very successful WWII miniatures game by Battlefront Miniatures.

While I'm not hostile to FOW, I'm most definitely not interested in playing a "branded" wargame. I played Warhammer 40k for many years, and I still enjoy Privateer Press' Warmachine—but these products have one thing on common: they both a ruleset and a miniatures company rolled into one. As such, there's a strong impetus to use brand-specific miniatures to play each game, especially at the tournament level. Said miniatures are, on average, a few bucks more expensive than their generic counterparts.

I dropped $50 on my 10mm collection and ended up with enough to field both sides of a decent-sized game. Plus, my existing collection of plastic prepainted tanks ensures that I'll pretty much never have to purchase a pewter tank ever again, which is great because I have zero interest in painting tanks and armored vehicles. My mantra for WWII gaming is this: Paint a little, play a lot. I've spent the last couple of weeks getting my two armies in shape, and at some point very soon, that effort will be over. Then, it's time to game.

Which brings me to my next qualm: FOW operates at an odd scale. Every game I've watched has suffered from the "Warhammer 40k syndrome," with miniatures packed onto every square inch of table space, leaving very little room for realistic fire and maneuver simulations. Every battle group looks like the Red Army, with troopers lined up base-to-base, everyone surging forward in one big clump. As near as I can tell, it's battalion-level play on a play area that might better support company-level duels. Granted, this makes for a very attractive tabletop, especially if both armies are painted, but I only see limited options in such setups. Scaling down to 10mm really opens up a lot more space on a standard 4/6 table.

I'd much rather buy my miniatures from a company that specializes in miniatures, and then buy rules from a dedicated game publishing company.