I got a game in this past weekend, and it was fantastic. First up, I want to provide a tremendous 'thank you' to Mr. Ben Lacy and his friend, Mr. Roger Burley, for inviting me to Ben's home to play a fantastic game. Ben showered me with favors and gifts; I'd never experienced such graciousness and hospitality, and for that I am extremely grateful and in their debt.
What happened is that Ben and I had conversed numerous times due to my prior purchases of his absolutely fantastic scenario books (my Operation Jupiter batreps are directly from one), and then he allowed me to playtest his "Fulda Gap" scenario book. That was a fantastic bit of fun for me, and required a great deal of communication between us, which strengthened our (online) bond. So when a business trip took me to Northern Virginia I reached out to Ben, and he invited me over. I can confirm the rumors that he and Roger are gentlemen gamers as fact, and I had a great time!
Ben set the table: we used his "Final Combat" skirmish rules for a scenario set in May 1940 in which a French rear guard of approximately a squad was seeking to delay a squad of the German vanguard pushing towards Dunkirk (Dunkerque). The table was absolutely amazing; my mouth watered and I turned green with envy as soon as Ben took me downstairs. I certainly have something to aspire to, plenty of room between my table and this one. I cannot recollect the manufacturer of the figures used, but they were beautiful, and about 54mm by my estimation.
I must warn you: this is not a proper battle report. I took only seven pictures and no notes; I was busy picking up the rules via Ben and Roger's mentoring, sizing up the tactical situation, socializing with my two great hosts, staring in awe at the amazing table, admiring the rules (particularly the initiative/action mechanisms, which are very clever), and overall just trying not to embarrass myself. Ben and I split the German squad, with he taking the rifle group and I taking the MG group, while Roger ran the French defenders. I believe Ben and I had 10 men (one MP-38/40, one drum-fed MG-34, and eight riflemen), while Roger had eight men (one officer with pistol, one Hotchkiss tripod-mounted MG, one Chatellerault (sp?) light MG, and the remainder riflemen).
The terrain was set, the forces set aside (Germans started off table, coming on their table edge, while the French were hidden, with Roger having marked their positions on a sketch map), the various game implements (rulers, dice, action markers, activation chits, reference tables, etc...) prepared, and so all I had to do was become familiar with the rules and tactical situation. Ben locked me on to the overall situation and then we discussed our strategy; we reviewed various plans and then settled on pushing forward on the right side, doing our best to keep our teams in mutually-supporting positions at all times. A good plan, but I ended up being a bit too cautious in my execution. I know, very strange, right? I'm usually super aggressive (certainly in all my solo games), but again, I was focused on not embarrassing myself, and I hadn't played a face to fact game against adults in about two years. Quite a few games against my 6-year old boy (who is easily my intellectual equal), but not against adults, much less regular gamers ;)
So, here is the best I can do with my (self-) limited resources.
As the Germans, Ben and I spent a significant amount of time walking through and working through our options. Sorry that I don't have a good photo, but we ultimately decided to come on the table on the far right. There was a two-story, bombed out house to the right of the brick building at far right; the MG Group would enter, go into that building, and ascend to the second floor to set up and cover the advance of the Rifle Group. Once the MG Group was in place, the Rifle Group was dart ahead into the Church via the rubble visible just above the brick building at far right. Once set up on the first floor of the Church, the MG Group would displace forward, passing through the Rifle Group and assuming their positions in the Church, while the Rifle Group would move into the Priory, clear it, then push across the road running left to right (the intersection is just visible past the stone wall round the Priory). We would also send a rifleman to the far right to see if the French were covering the small lane running down the right side of the board.
Things never go as planned...
In this photo the Priory is the building at far right, and you can see the lane running down the right side of the table. At this point we have no idea where the French are, but they've got their officer and MG team off camera to top right, three guys with an LMG in the Priory, and a rifleman covering the right-hand lane (off camera to top right). What's happening in the center is 1) the Rifle Group is in position on the 1st floor of the Church (you can see the stairwell, which leads to a window that offers an excellent field of fire, so Ben got a rifleman up there, and right now the MG Group is moving forward into the Church. But due to differences in quality of the individual troops (which affects how often they may act) means the entire MG Group is becoming dispersed, which was a conscious decision in order to get the gun into action as quickly as possible, but made command and control more difficult for me.
A German rifleman sprinted from the Church (left) to the back side of the Priory (center), but was spotted by French in the building at top left and put out of the fight (Roger incredibly rolled a 1 on a D20, which would have hit only on a 1). The German MG was still not in place, but German rifleman spotted the French in the building at top left and began firing. In quick order (some pretty fancy spotting and firing rolls) the French began suffering: the French A-gunner was the first to go down, then the MG gunner was hit in the shoulder and left the fight. When the French Lieutenant moved over to man the machine gun he was shot in the hand, but he stayed with the gun.
At this point the two German Groups were intermingled and there was a serious traffic jam in the Church; this was exacerbated when the French LMG gunner (in the Priory) popped into a window. He had us dead to rights, and a single burst was set to do serious damage to our German squad. But Ben saved us: his NCO (with MP-40) snap fired at the Frenchman and wounded him. Subsequent morale failures on his part saw him run for his life out of the Priory, only to be gunned down by Ben's NCO.
But we weren't out of the woods yet: the French MG fired on a German rifleman, though he suffered no ill effects, but then another Frenchman in the Priory stepped up and lobbed a grenade into the Church, which was packed with most of the German squad. There was some luck that it rolled down into a crevice, but the grenade scattered the Germans, thus slowing our attempts to get the MG-34 into position.
On the far right, a veteran German infantryman traded fire with the French rifleman there, finally putting the Frenchman out of the fight. The veteran German moved forward...
The German NCO tossed a smoke grenade into the courtyard of the Priory (it would be at far left of this photo) to cover the Rifle Group from the front (left) as they moved up into the Priory, and the MG-34 finally got into position in the Church. It was cool how it played out; the German NCO had pulled out his smoke grenade right before the French LMG gunner popped into view (the far right window above), dropped it, grabbed and fired his SMG which hit the Frenchman, shot him as he ran away, then picked the smoke grenade back up and tossed it.
But the veteran German rifleman was quicker to the draw, and tossed a potato masher through the window. The grenade bounced around a bit; the Frenchman with the LMG was suffering negative morale effects and couldn't get to it to toss it back, while the Frenchman with the live grenade in his hand was paralyzed by fear. The German hand grenade exploded, mortally wounding the first Frenchman and lightly wounding the second, but then the second Frenchman's hand grenade went off in his hand, killing him!
With that, all four Frenchmen on the right were out of the fight. On the left, one rifleman was down, the machine gunner was hit and moved off to the battalion aid station, the Lieutenant was wounded and cowering from German machine gun fire, and there was a solitary rifleman working his way around the German left, trying to get into position. The Germans had lost two men, but at this point everyone else was in good shape and the French had no means to prevent the Germans from accomplishing their mission of getting at least five men off the map via the French baseline, so we called the game.
What a game! I had a great time, and Ben and Roger were great to have a game with.
In the end, I just want to give a thousand thanks to these two gentlemen for having me over and sharing their beautiful table, figures, and time with me. I am really quite thankful for the opportunity, and would love to do it again, whether that's in Northern Virginia or Texas. And nothing beats playing a set of rules with the author!
As a quick aside, the weekend prior to coming out to DC my son and I played four games of 5 Men at Kursk for my campaign in Cronistria. I haven't had a lot of time, but when I get some I'll be posting those batreps too.