In a previous entry, I commented this summer's plan at our local club to play a large Stalingrad game extending over several evenings. Today we have initiated our trip to Stalingrad and had a first battle to test how Troops, Weapons and Tactics performs in an urban battle environment.
I was in the Soviet team; we had a couple of infantry platoons (3 squads each, mixing rifles and SMGs), and HQ sections (with an officer, comissar, 4 SMGs and a sniper) and a T 34 moving in a fairly crowded urban table 6' x 5' sized (note: we borrowed some Warhamer 40K and Fantansy buildings while we finish the terrain that we will use in July's game, so don't be surprised to see in photos below a lot of neo-gothic architecture and painted skulls, etc furnishing some of the building walls, windows and doors).
The victory conditions for the Soviet team was to exit the table with at least 10 soldiers through the entry point of the German units. The enemy had a SPG and I estimated a similar number of squads as we had.
The first decision was how to treat the buildings for combat purposes. There were issues related to the size, height and condition (ruined totally or partially, for example), as well as the location of doors (to get in) and windows (to fire to incoming enemy units) that were important.
In the end we agreed
- To split the large buildings in "sections" clearly marked, that could be occupied by 1 squad;
- All squads had to spend 1D6 to enter a building and an addtional 1D6 to deploy inside ( = to put small arms and LMG fire outside the building squads needed to deploy);
- Any unit moving upstairs or into another section of the same building had to spend 1D6
- Location of doors and windows was abandoned; as in TWT the fire is executed by firing groups (usually a LMG team and a rifle team), players had only to indicate which side of the building were located each group.
All units entered in blinds. We supplied blinds for all squads; but players were given the option to place up to 2 squads under the cover of a single blind and use the reamining allocation as dummy blinds.
We deployed 2 squads and the T 34 in our left flank and the remaining units onthe right side of our line, with the idea of engaging the Germans in the centre-right and make a fast frontal advance in the right.
I inmediately observed that these urban games suffered from a lot of friction. Players tend to be extra-cautious in the way they move the units: if you want to enter a building and deploy inside, you need to invest at least 2D6 out of the total allocation of 3; the risk is that using just 1D6 to move, you may score too low and got stranded in the middle of the street with no cover. That happend to 1 of the German units, taht was unfortunately caught by the cross fire of 2 adjacent Russian units and were wiped out in a couple of tea-breaks.
For that reason most of the time, players used 2 dice to move and 1 die to get inside the building, limiting to some extent the potential to fire the enemy in the following turn (in some cases they only managed to reach the entrance of the building because of low scores; IF (big 'if') activated the following turn, they had to invest the 2 dice to enter and deploy, using the remaing 1D6 to firing but very low probability of scoring anything significant).
Playing with AFV was also tricky as both tank commander were terrified of being caught by the other at short distance in the open. In the end we had a cat-and-mouse game between the T 34 and the Stug, hiding behind the walls of the buildings and moving just close enough to catch the enemy in the following activation, while remaining himself in a hull down position.
In the end the T 34 came out victorious (but after trying several turns) and wrecked the German Stug.
Snipers also proved to be very effective in these type of urban environments, pinning squads and depriving units from their Big Men in critical moments. Our sniper killed two officers, including the senior German commander, and score several hits on several squads, surviving until the end of the game.
I had to leave the game early because some family engagements, but was informed this evening that our strategy paid off and the Germans were beaten back in several close combat assaults in the center of their line, leaving a gap open for the Soviets to leave the table.
The game was quite useful and some important lessons were learned for our summer project. A new aspect that I have suggested to incorporate in the following games are sewers and sewer movement; in this case I believe that the Toofatlardies Vietnam-era rules Charlie Don't Surf can prove useful as it has a section on tunnel warfare. I'm planning also re-reading Beevor's Stalingrad to check if I can find useful tips or ideas for our game.
We will appreciate comments and ideas from readers of this blog who would have played urban combat games.