Sunday, December 20, 2015

ASL scenario replay: Clearing Kamienka

Note to readers: This post won't make a lick of sense to anyone who isn't familiar with the Advanced Squad Leader game system.

Greetings fellow ASL players!  After a several-year hiatus, an old familiar sound has returned to the Cariaga Hacienda: the merry clacking of dice tumbling through the tower. That's right! I'm plunging once again into a world of hours spent hunched over a game table arranging little squares of cardboard on a map while nimbly performing arithmetic calisthenics. In a word, ASL.

As usual, my nemesis, Dave Hauth, is the face across the table. And the game? Clearing Kamienka by Vic Provost. It looks like a barn-burner. A mostly infantry fight pitting elite Wehrmacht troops against sturdy Russian rifles in the early days of Barbarossa. 

Dave and I are both going to blog our experience as we go. We've a Gentleman's Agreement that neither of us will read his opponent's blog until given express permission to do so. 

You can read Dave's blog here.

Readers are encouraged to comment!  Speak your piece! Just be sure not to inadvertently reveal any information about Dave's plan to me or vice-versa. 

Thanks to Vic Provost for designing this great-looking scenario. And thanks to my old friend, Rodney Kinney for developing the VASL gaming engine which I've used to capture images. 

Well, here we go. Barbarossa, July 1941. German units are pouring across the frontier, swallowing up whole armies of Russians.

According to the arcane meta-game rules that Dave and I have developed over decades of gaming together, I have choice of sides for this engagement. I choose the Reds. They have a strong defensive position, plenty of cover, and the potential to set up some lethal ambushes for Germans advancing across soft terrain. (Besides, I'm something of a leftist.)

The German force I'm facing is awesome. Assault engineers with all their toys, great leadership, big ordnance, elite troops , a platoon of assault guns --that's quite a bit.

Both sides receive reinforcements at different points in the game.

The Victory Conditions state that the Germans must control at least 24 building locations east of hexrow P. A quick tally off the map reveals that there are 30 such locations in total. Therefore, in order to win, I must retain 7 building locations east of hexrow P. By SSR, any locations that are rubbled or ablaze count as German-controlled, and given that the German OB includes a 150mm howitzer, it is not unlikely that we will see some rubbling and fire-setting in this game.

So, taking all this into consideration, here's what I came up with...

Clearing Kamienka set up. Acquisition markers indicate bore-sighted locations.
As you can see, I've set up in strength to defend the walled building complex on board 43. My reasoning? If the German is going to win, he is almost compelled to control all the building locations in that complex. He can't bypass it, and if he must commit to attacking it, I want him to completely commit to that attack, rather than cause mischief with lesser attacks on my flanks. The approaches to the board 43 building complex are all soft cover (grain, brush, open ground), and I've got everything trained on them.

My turn 1 reinforcements, which arrive on the western half of the northern board edge, will hustle into the buildings on board 42 to await the Germans when they overwhelm the board 43 defenders. (And they will overwhelm them.)

Organizationally, I've divided my on board forces into three groups. Facing west, we have: center, left flank and right flank.

Central defense
Pretty straightforward here. A light mortar is out in front with a dummy stack. The hidden half-squad in O7.1 will act as spotter for the mortar to avoid all those grain hex hindrances. The Commissar will direct the fire of the MMG in O7, looking to lay firelanes to hinder Germans advancing through the grain. The same goes for the 447 with LMG in the 08 ground location, while the HIP 9-1 leader and 248 manning the heavy will save their hidden status until they get a good clean shot at a leader, or a torch-wielding engineer, or maybe at the big howitzer. Once they give up their HIP status, they'll move to the ground floor post haste. The upper level will be a death trap once the Germans know they're up there. The 10-0 commissar waits with the reserves behind the building complex to provide back up support.

Left flank

I've placed 7 of my 12 allotted dummy counters in this area to make it appear stronger than it is. There are only 2 actual units over here: the 76* howitzer, which is set to subject enfilading fire on Germans approaching the board 43 building cluster through the grain, and a 447 with LMG that is there to protect the gun from infantry. If the Germans push for the P2 woods cluster, the units in 43O7 will fire to interdict.

Right flank
Counting on those reinforcements. The 447 with the ATR is hidden.
On the right flank I've placed the AT gun and the big mortar, plus some supporting infantry. The 447 with the ATR gets HIP status, completing my HIP allotment for the scenario. These units will be bolstered on Turn 1 by the reinforcing infantry and they'll need it. If the German is going to win the scenario, he will have to invest the buildings on board 42, and to get to them, he'll have to smash this force. But he can do it.

The commissar and MMG in 43L10 can offer some crossfire support if the German approaches this position through the grain, as can the 447 with LMG in 43N9.


I've aimed to put as much fire as I can onto the two big grain fields on either board that represent the most direct approach to the victory buildings.

The German force is intimidating. But we Reds are a wiley bunch. If I can avoid his hay-makers and nick him repeatedly, I can whittle him down so that he doesn't have enough at the end of the scenario to succeed in his final push.

At your leisure, Herr Hauth. Russian set up as seen by German player.
Dave and I will play some time after Christmas. I'll post an AAR when we're done. Wish me luck, comrades!

Update: Alas and alack! Dave and I got around to playing this game two days after Christmas. Our playing revealed it to be strongly unbalanced in favor of the Russian. Dave fired smoke with his big howitzer and two of his tank destroyers, but it wasn't enough. The Germans advanced into murderous fire. As strong as is the German order of battle, it's not enough to overcome the strength of the Russian position. I think, with a few adjustments, this could be a tight scenario and a lot of fun to play for both sides. My considered recommendation for balancing this game are these:
  1. Remove the radio and 80mm Mtr OBA from the German OBA and replace it with a guaranteed Smoke FFE which occurs during the turn 1 German Prep Fire phase in a hex designated by the German player prior to all setup.
  2. Allow the Stugs, AA gun, and 150mm howitzer to set up on either board, within the German setup area. Remove the unarmored half-tracks from the German OB.
  3. Disallow Russian bore-sighting.
If anybody wants to try the scenario with my suggestions, let me know and we'll play it sometime. I'll even give choice of sides.

Monday, November 09, 2015

Travel is life distilled

Fountain in Paris
I began making arrangements for this trip almost exactly one year ago. The journey I ultimately realized was very different from the journey I first imagined. Circumstances shape our lives in ways we can't foresee.

These extended trips are milestone events. They're pilgrimages. They have for me as much significance as did marrying, or leaving my hometown for the city.

Travel is life distilled. Every day brings new discoveries, new and diverse challenges, human interactions by the score.

Thirty-nine days on the road. Seems like a year.

So, while the memory is fresh...

Lisbon and Brussells
Praça do Comércio, Lisboa
Lisbon and Brussels are cities where I could live and be happy. Lisbon is sunny and unpretentious. Brussels is understated, down-to-earth. Lisbon is inexpensive. Brussels is diverse. Both reminded me of Portland in certain aspects.

Most people in Brussels speak French in their day-to-day lives. But nearly everyone can converse in English and often German, Dutch or even Spanish as well. In Lisbon, people speak Portuguese which grants a level of comprehension of Spanish (and vice-versa). English-only speakers will have no trouble in Lisbon, though; there are many English-speakers --especially in service industries.

St. Gilles region of Brussels at dusk
How travel in Europe has changed

Near Flam, Norway, back in '99
In 1999, when last I did a Eurrail tour, traveling in Europe was different in many ways. Each nation had her own currency (francs, pesos, lira, et cetera). Now the Euro is here, there is no need to guess how much money to withdraw at each visit to the ATM! It's legal tender from Oslo to Naples.

Tour d'Eiffel
Note, however, that the Euro does not spend the same everywhere in the European Union! I found Iberia (Portugal and Spain) to be easy on the wallet. Paris and Luxembourg, on the other hand, took big bites out of my travel budget.

Another progression in modern-day travel is the smart phone. My iPhone served as camera, map, translator, reservation-maker, and communication device. Keep in mind, I accomplished all these things without telephone service. The ubiquity of wifi service (available at restaurants, hotels, coffee shops, convenience stores, Airbnb rentals, train stations, and on and on) makes telephone service all but unnecessary. (I wonder if that doesn't make phone company executives at all nervous...)

I never got lost on this trip. At times, I had trouble finding what I was looking for, but I never lost track of where I was. Thank you Google Maps! Maty and I kept in touch via video calls every day. Thank you IMO!

Gramercy to my hosts

Water trough in Nans sous Ste. Anne
I'm very grateful to Tim and Susan Hundsdorfer, who welcomed me into their home in the pastoral Franche Comté region of France. There I beheld a world I would never have otherwise seen.  They seem to have fit themselves into Nans sous Ste. Anne. It's a beautiful place and the life they are creating seems peaceful. A peaceful life in a beautiful place... Doesn't that sound like paradise? Tim is thoughtful and kind. Susan is a portrait of empathy. Tim and Susan, thanks for everything.

Utrecht at dusk
Brother Calee met me in Brussels where we spent the better part of two days before driving to his home in 's-Graveland (pronounced "SCRAW vuh land") in the Netherlands. My brother is generous, gracious, and accommodating. I only wish I could have seen Sister-in-law Sarah (who was away) before I came home. Thanks to you both! I wish I could tell you how proud you make me.

What was it like?

On the road in France
When I travel like this, the in-the-moment experience is one of constant low-level anxiety. There is stress, uncertainty, risk, minor disasters. There is very little "down" time. 

What day of the week is it? How many days should I reserve for Barcelona? How long will it take me to get from my room to the train station? How many days until I need to do laundry? Where are my Eurrail Pass and passport? Where is the key to my room? Questions like these plagued me throughout the journey. 

I saw many sights. The moments come frequently and fast. The onslaught can be overwhelming.

So why do it? Why go through it?

Obvious, of course. So obvious it's almost cliché. JRR Tolkien wrote a delightful allegory about it called The Hobbit or There and Back Again.

But here's my stab at it: Travel expands the horizon of one's mind. Travel adds texture to life. Travel makes you a better person. It teaches self-reliance. It strengthens skills: communication, organization, the ability to deal with stress.

Travel teaches things that can never be adequately expressed.

Travel is drinking deeply of the heady wine of being human. In this world. At this time.

Thirty-nine days later, October 1, the day Maty and I left Portland is a long time gone.

Close now, with some pics...


Breakfast with Maty at a Mexican place in Staten Island
Mastodon skeleton, American Museum of Natural History, Manhattan
Sunset on the Hudson River
Feeling gnarly in Lisbon
Neighborhood folks in Lisbon
Sikhs in Lisbon
Turret in Quinta da Regaleira, Sintra, Portugal
Breakfast in Madrid
Catedrál Almudena in Madrid
Agujas de la Sagrada Familia, Barcelona
Arco de Triunfo, Barcelona
Parque Güell, Barcelona
Korean sailors on Las Ramblas, Barcelona
Saints outside the Catedrál de Barcelona in the Gothic Quarter

Glass-eyed busker in Barcelona
Turkish restaurant on Las Ramblas
Tim demonstrates the function of a vomitorium at the Roman museum in Lyons
Roman mosaic in Lyons
Susan and Tim, at home in Nans sous Ste. Anne
Stopped for a time in Franche Comté
Memorial to the fallen from the two world wars, Nans sous Ste. Anne
Fountain in Besaçon
Bad guys over the entrance of Notre Dame, Paris
Good guys, same
David and Goliath in the Louvre, in Paris
Macabre artwork in the Paris Catacombs
Adam and Eve according to Dalí
Medieval stained glass at the Musée Cluny, Paris
Cold morning on the Rue de Picpus, Paris
Playful turtles at the Paris acquarium
Color, in Luxembourg...
...and graffiti, in Luxembourg
German anti-tank position, diorama from the National Museum of Military History, Diekirch, Luxembourg
St. Gilles region, Brussels
Goose above the guildhouse door, in La Grande Place, Brussels
Stained glass, Cathedral of St. Michael and St. Gudula, Brussels
Calee in his kitchen
Street scene, Utrecht
O'Hare International, ready to be home