I’ll warn you up front. This article may make you dizzy.
This morning like a giddy child, staggering dizzily from one candy jar to the next, stuffing ones face full of illicit treats I played half a dozen activations of The Last Blitzkrieg.
Yes Ladies. The new Dean Essig opus. Over a decade in the making, so massively tested, refined and tested again and again by a set of tireless believers who struggled joyously under the bright light that is Essig at his best. The Last Blitzkrieg.
Why do I feel like a giddy child? Because I raced, rambled and ran through 6 activation actions and my nausea mounted at each move. My guide on vassal for this session has probably got 100 plays under his belt, and the effusiveness and enthusiasm was palpable. I rushed in.
This game is certainly special. It is not a game to be rushed my friends. This is to be savoured as you would a 1998 Saint Emilion from the right bank. Time will pay dividends.
Each activation brings you a fresh set of challenges; where do you place your objectives? Who moves first? Will you conduct fire attacks, suppression barrages, destruction barrages? Can the Division force enemy support to be dropped from the Objective hex? Should we have double tapped (put two objectives on the same hex), that hex for the bonus in combat? When is the right time to use a shock attack? Who can support an engagement? Did I leave anyone ripe for counter attack?
The first activation was a safe one, just a few units from the erstwhile 326 Volks Grenadiers. They advanced and attempted to bump the 3/395 battalion of the 99th Inf Division back off the road to open a up a SW threat vector. Launching the attack from the Westwall was a low odds chance of success but with the preliminary fires from 88mm support guns we forced the dropping of support (which provides a defense DRM ), think of it as akin to a suppression of sorts…but not.
The 1/751 joined the attack to provide bonus’s [assist +1 DRM] and we placed both OBJ tokens [+1] on the hex for an additional bonus. Each sides tallies up their AR +/- DRMS and the net difference is applied to the 2d6 result. Yep..no combat factor. Strength is a function of steps, and fatigue level.
When I first did the shrink rip, I saw this CRT, and glossed over it. Not knowing that THIS was it! Where was the enormous 12 column by 15 row Essig CRT?
The level of thought, and refinement of principles that harken or at least owe a nod back to OCS and TCS here is so freaking genius that I love it!
Essig has taken the logistical tail wagging the dog from OCS, along with the highly attritional and complex TCS combat system and sucked all the greatness from them and discarded the rest to fit both scale and play-ability in the Battalion Combat System.
Anyway – we rolled well, we forced a loss and a retreat. Sadly we had nothing to exploit with.
If you are playing this game, and you think that its glib, or light or flavor less, see a Doctor quickly, you might be dead. As there are just a myriad set of choices confronting every activation. Sometimes I’m sure you will know which formation to activate first, where the men are going and what the plan is. But more often than not with the alternating activation method and SNAFU rolls your plans will be thwarted or worse crushed.
The next activation was for the Allies or the enemy as I think of them! Their attempt to activate ( due to scenario specific surprise restrictions layered in simply as – your are “finished” and must roll of a continuation type action) was successful, they adjusted some units positions and play returned back to me. Note, formations finish in a similar fashion to formations in Great Battles of History. Once activated they are complete for the turn unless you elect to beat your command roll and go again.
If Peiper wants to be historical he needs to crank some booty and run a clear road. That means 12th VF has to clear the way for him so lets activate them next.
Thus the 1/394 of the 99th US Infantry Division at the cross roads has to go! Here KampfGruppe Holz comes into play. As the only dude with punch [red dual stand off and assault capable ] in 12th VG they fire away forcing dropped support and then lead the charge! The 1/394 retreats into the safety of the marsh cleverly sticking a zoc over the road while preventing shock attack ( kind of like an overrun but executed very differently) by follow on formations.
The 2nd Division attempts to activate and fails. The Allies had planned on placing a guard unit on the 99th HQ and making some adjustments to further block the roads. That is not happening due to the SNAFU roll being too low.
[Correction the 12th VG did its second activation immediately after its first] Now the 12th attempts to activate again and does so BUT with their SNAFU roll only get 1 objective chit this time rather than 2. So now with 1 chit and half movement rates how far can I get? Who can I attack? What should I do?
We need to knock that 1/394 some more. IF we can get good result on that, then we can attempt to combat it. The German Arty fires suppression fire….misses. It takes a second and last shot. misses. Well now its plan B. As Holz cant impact that hex where the 1/394 sits in a shock attack (its marsh), so he swings SW to dislodge the enemy from Buckholz where the 3/394th is in prepared defense [its in range of the Divisional HQ].
Holz KG and another Bn attack and force the 3/394th to retreat! The remaining forces attempt to attack the unit in the swamp and succeed in suppressing it (dropping support) which negates its eZOC for armour. Mission accomplished. The hapless Allies fail another activation roll. :)….
Now Peiper activates earning two Objective chits. One goes in Rocherath the other in Burlingen. Both are VP hexes and one contains the 99th Inf HQ. Now the sequence of who moves and when matters.
By entering that hex we ‘bounce the 99th Divisions HQ’ to a “safe location”. This forces the dropping of all prepared defenses for the 99th ( I think this is akin to saying that the Arty had to move, so we got to re site re plot etc. It is not the removal of dug in locations etc).
The Spitz company of tanks high tails it for the other town, and blows away the engineers in a shock attack. Here the Spitz unit had two opportunities to shock in the attack, but with a solid +4 differential the result was likely never in doubt and had a low chance of inflicting a step loss, the first attack wipes out the engineers. Spitz motors on and captures Butgenbach. So due to some lucky rolling by 12th VG Peiper gets a boost and is 1 day ahead of historical.
But hang on a second!!! I hear you say. You were nauseous? What the fuck? Where is the vomit?
Well walking away from the screen it was all a bit of a blur, DRM this, fire attack, shock that, can do, cant this and that. Being so eager to experience the system the opportunity for deeper learning and comfort with the system was lost.
This is not your Grand Pa’s hex and counter game. You must understand the tools you have, how they can be applied and where to use them to the greatest impact.
One would expect a novice player to take 5-10 minutes per activation contemplating who goes where, who attacks, which attack type to use and rally understand what the hell you are trying to achieve, before you move a unit.
Thankfully each element of the game system is written in classic Essig style. Spare, calm, clean and clear. As this is being written the map and physical counters are out. I’m punching it and hope that the tactile experience will reinforce what I learned today.
The functional aspects of support are new to gamers, so time invested there will pay dividends, as will learning more about your combat capabilities.
When we left turn 1, the Germans had made progress but set up complications for themselves by forcing coordination rules to come into force as 12th VG and Peiper now share a supply route for the moment. The Combat Trains need to move and the HQ for the 99th Allied division is in a shitty situation. Your choices now matter in the future. This game will be thought provoking on many levels and fits and starts as you resolve what to do, how to counter what your opponent does and what sort of a mess you are creating for the next turn.
Today we dipped our toe into this fascinating new system, that hopefully will live up to the excitement coming from Essig’s Angels. I’m off to clip counters!