Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Battleground 2020: Syria, Post 3: Rules - GDW's Team Yankee?

If it can be seen, it can be shot.
If it can be shot, it can be killed.
Image result for how not to be seen monty python
Kinda makes the choice of bush important, yes?

So...been excused from posting duty as we had our baby a couple weeks ago.  Louisa Jean is already old enough to attend her first wargame demonstration and analysis, altho she seems mainly interested in absorbing the presentation thru osmosis... most Soldiers, actually.  She is fortunate in being very cute, since I don't think she'll have much command authority wearing a onesy with unicorn footies!

The quest for a simple set of modern rules hasn't been very fruitful. Most of the miniature rules are complicated and gear-focused, and they demand that the player do the job of every Pvt Snuffy, Sgt, Lt., Cpt, and Major. Asking a bit much, really! I'm looking for something that embodies some of the most important aspects of modern / contemporary warfare - like the above - in a workable fashion. And, I don't want to spend the next two years playtesting rule sets!

The closest one so far is Fistful of Tows 3.0, which seems to have a pretty good balance overall and covers WWII until well into the modern era. I own it and I like it, but still looking for a bit more simplicity. 

An Alternative is Battlefront's "Team Yankee" but frankly, I have never been a huge fan of Flames of War which became a dragon that needed to be slain. BF did this with their 4th edition, but it doesn't seem to have much traction in the area, and still seems to emphasize gaminess over mechanics that encourage tactics. Also, there's this thing about a big-selling game that other people own - even if a couple of mods would clean it right up, people don't want to fix it.

Still, did play the "Fate of a Nation" version with "Sound Officer's Call" Steve during his Christmas Offensive [CLICK], and it was smooth, easy fun. But, there's something about the game's emphases and weaknesses that makes it not excite me, not even to borrow and read it. And frankly, now that they're imitating Games Workshop, I don't trust BF at all with my time and money.

Fortunately, SOC Steve has plenty of rules to borrow! And he did recommend an oldie but a goodie, Frank Chadwick's "Team Yankee" boardgame from the distant years of 1987 when Reagan and Thatcher brought the Evil Empire to its knees, WWIII was an unlikely but still considered proposition, and I was an Army cadet [yes...BDUs and M16s].  With Operation Louisa Jean in full swing, it took months to read and play the game, but now that I have I'm very glad I did!

BLUF: This is a smooth, grid / hex game with plenty of traditional mechanics [including an odds-based CRT!] that are artfully put together. The rules are short and sweet, and have a proper level of abstraction for a busy gamer: the most important tactics are strongly embedded in the mechanics, but the minutiae of modern war is mostly ignored. It is tactically rich, plays a small scenario in about an hour [with the potential for much larger games that take up to six hours]. Team Yankee is rated a 6/10 overall, and a 2/5 for complexity at BGG [CLICK]. I think it would make a great miniatures game, especially if the grid was left in the game. 
"It's a keeper!"

So with the cheery prospect of World War III in mind, let's see how I reached such a positive review!

The battered box in all its 1980s graphic glory:

"no fancy graphics were hurt or killed for the making of these rules...not even colors!"

However, some oil was turned into plastic. Counter Tray!

...I had to organize and clean some up for playtesting. Unfortunately, a couple counters are missing.

Below is the introductory scenario. I had an immediate problem with the Soviet setup, which had them anywhere on the board and the US forces in the town, holding what was the victory condition for both sides. Sort of a cowboy and injun scenario with the settlers circled up and surrounded by the injuns, with the cavalry [in the form of two M1 Abrams] riding to the rescue. 

Unfortunately, it didn't take a lot to crush the US defenders quickly, so after a couple of play-thrus I switched it to a more standard "enter the board and attack" scenario. This doesn't put the Sovs at much disadvantage as the village isn't far from their entry point. They still have the pressure of taking real estate that the owners don't want to sell. They could condemn it legally...or drive a battalion of T-72s thru it. Which do you think is more likely to happen here???

So, scenario modified, the US recon force of two M3 Bradley's with two dismount teams occupy the town while two Abrams enter from the West to rescue them.  Attacking from the East [as it should be], the Sovs have three BMP1s with infantry dismounts and three T-72s. Overall, a 1.5-1 edge, not much, but it'll be 2-1 until the Abrams are fully engaged.

Immediately worth noting is that the seemingly typical IGO-UGO turn sequence has a bit of a twist - the attacker, or whichever side has the Initiative, gets to determine who takes the first Player Turn [PT] and who the second. Thus, one may concede PT1 and go second, then take PT1 the following turn for two Player Turns in a row. 

This sounds horrific for the other side, except that the turn is actually quite interactive: during either player's move phase, opposing Units may fire at any time.  The right to do this is earned on the preceding turn, when the phasing player may take up Firing Positions instead of moving with a Unit. This allows it to Reaction Fire during the opposing Move phase. 

So unless you are constantly on the move, you will have plenty of chances to fire a second time in a Game Turn, once in your Player Turn, and once in the opposing Player Turn in his Move phase. The price for the second shot is the Unit's movement. So if you move, your firepower is halved. Or, phrased another way, if you do not move, your firepower is doubled. This makes the tension between moving and firing pretty high, and the decision really matters.

Thus, the turn sequence ends up like this:

1.    Artillery Fire Mission Requests.
2.    Player Turns
a.    1P first attacks.
b.    1P Movement & 2P Reaction Fire [RF].
c.    1P last attacks.
d.    2P first attacks.
e.    2P Movement & 1P Reaction Fire [RF].
f.     2P last attacks.
3.    Artillery Fire Mission[s] Arrive.

Given this, I found that if the Sovs take PT1 of Turn 1 [the red d20], it is better for the US to deploy in defilade, deep into the town.

Because, if they give it to the US [blue d20] they end up with the US forces right on the edge of the town, ready to Reaction Fire as they enter the board. This inevitably results in some losses of armored assets as all four US Units have missiles. While it also puts those US Units at risk faster due to their being in Line of Sight, I overall don't think it worth it - AT Missile systems are just too dangerous to approach them in the open with armor and no artillery preparation.

To make matters worse, the high speed and long range of the Abrams gets them into a fight quickly - they've a total threat range of 28 hexes for long range, and 18 for effective range! Having them perched in overwatch West of the town makes the Soviet approach tough. If the Abrams are North of the town [above], they cover it and can't be seen themselves. If they go South of the town [below], they've broader LoF altho they are more at risk themselves.

Even this one simple turn sequence mechanic makes for interesting decisions for the players, affecting setup, deployment, maneuver plan, etc.

Below, I opted for the Sovs to take Player Turn 1. With no Abrams on the board, they entered and the entire force deployed on a hill in overwatch and in cover.

I then thought better of it - and instead raced the Sov motor infantry straight down the road to the edge of town, and was just able to dismount them. With a town hex between, neither the Yankees nor the Sovs have LoS to each other so there is no Sov advancing fire, either. Their PT ends.

With PT2, the Abrams enter right down the road, and the US recon platoon advances to contest the town hexes between them and the Sovs. All armor concentrates fire on the Sov BMP1s, as these are a threat to the Abrams as well as the Bradleys and infantry. They manage to destroy two of them, and "two out of three ain't bad". The US infantry have no effect on the Sov's however - too busy setting up fields of fire in the town to actually shoot straight, I guess.

The Sovs keep PT1, and on Turn 2, fire from the T72s knocks out a Bradley. They get Damage on the other.

*Two Damage results and armor is Destroyed, meanwhile it's immobilized and fights at half strength. 
*When stacked, Units have results randomized on the units, so it is possible to get three kill results which then all get randomized on one actual Unit. I used the black dice for the randomization of the hits.
*All shooting against a Unit or stack must be declared before any is resolved, so you don't get to see the result of one Unit's shooting and then switch targets. I like this mechanic - it's standard in my games already.

The BMPs fire at the Abrams and manage to knock one out! The "Pin" comes off the Sov infantry.
and the reporter was too startled at the demise of the Abrams to focus his camera...

Sovs do not move, so all their Units flip to the "Reaction Fire" side, and will be able to shoot again in the US Move phase. This ends their PT2, with casualties even up!

US PT2 starts off with an Abrams knocking out the last BMP and the Bradley a T-72 [its TOW is powerful].

In the US Move phase, Reaction Fire knocks out the last Bradley and pins a US infantry unit.

US finishes the turn with the last Abrams moving right up against the town, and the infantry losing the Pin and flipping to their Reaction Fire side.
Still about even - half the US and almost half the Sovs are out of the fight.

Turn 3, Sovs take PT1 and the tanks pin both US infantry.

The Sov infantry then double-Pin one, destroying it.

During their Move, Sov infantry charge into the hex with the US infantry! US Reaction Fire is ineffective, rolling a '5'. On the US turn 3, both Units fire to no effect. I had to decide if the Abrams could fire into the hex with the US infantry. I decided that since it was adjacent, it was close enough to discern friend from foe and let them do it. Won't allow this for Units that are not adjacent to mutually stacked enemies. US Infantry lose their pin, all US units flip to their Reaction Fire side and the Turn ends.
Sovs cannot advance fire as they already fired, then moved. Action is a bit cramped on the hexes, would look better in miniatures, right??

Turn 4, Soviet tanks rumble! They depart the heights and move adjacent to the town to better support the infantry assault - as in get line of sight to something. The infantry charge out of the hex and attack the US tank! With battle cries of "Wodka", "Stalingrad" and "Chernobyl", they come on throwing Stoli cocktails [or whatever they throw these days]. With the Reaction Fire, the Abrams crew nonchalantly wipes a squad out, but the startled US infantry miss. 

Unfortunately, the infantry have failed to protect their protector, and the Soviets destroy the Abrams in their advance fire phase! What happened?? The old "Landshark" knock? Bait and switch?

Things look grim at the start of the US turn 4. With one infantry, they've little chance of holding the town without a lot of great good fortune on their side. Still, they start off by knocking out a T72 with their TOW. They then flip to their Reaction Fire side in a hope to survive.

Sov PT5 starts with ineffective prep fire by the last T72. 

then they charge their infantry, who are wiped out as the US rolls a '1' and ruthlessly guns'em down.

The last T72 then moves out of range of the TOW, back on the hill from whence it game.

The US doesn't have a way to reach the Sovs, so hunker down and hope to last until Turn 8 and victory. Unfortunately, the Sovs finally get a bead on them, pinning them twice [once as Reaction Fire, once in the following prep fire] and turn 6 results in them getting KO'd. The US team leader cedes the town to the Red Menace as they quietly depart to fight another day. They are after all, recon, and weren't supposed to be stuck in this mess anyway, right?

OK, in retrospect, I probably should've moved the US out of LoS of the hill, but then they wouldn't have the Reaction Fire and the T-72 could move up close, get double firepower, and wax them that, way, anyway.

Game requires that the victory condition be met or it is a draw. Fortunately, the Sovs can enter the town by Turn 8. Had the US lasted one more turn, it would have been a draw with the T-72 just outside of town!
Final butcher's bill: everyone but one T-72.

Wow, right down to the wire! I really thought either side could win at several points, and was a bit desperate with the Sovs hence the infantry attacks into the same hex [there's no "assault rule" per se, you just enter the same hex and get attack bonuses]. Despite the limits photographing a hex game that has stacking, I hope the decisions I made and the results are clear.

This game system provides a lot of bang for the buck. The rules are more like 2.5/5 or moderately complex to me. I actually think plenty of people would take a while to figure out even the subtleties of the turn sequence and the balance of "fire and move" v. taking up positions for Reaction Fire. If the scenario wasn't about a town, this would've been a very challenging decision quite often. 

As you can only fire once, but move either way, it is really a "move-shoot" or "shoot-move" turn for every Unit, unless they do not move, in which case they shoot, don't move, flip to Reaction Fire, or don't shoot, don't move, shoot, flip to Reaction Fire. Pretty impressive turn sequence mechanic, in my humble opinion.

It should be noted that I played the scenario about ten times, several of the first outings had so many rules errors that it wasn't worth a write up. The mechanics are rich enough that after 38 years of wargaming, I found the intro scenario quite engaging, and attempted a good dozen combinations of attack and defense.While there are a few small things I'd like to see [hull-down defense bonus] there's nothing in the basic rules I've played that rubbed me the wrong way.

I think that says it all, don't you?


  1. I won't lie, I haven't had a chance to finish reading the post yet - I scrambled down to the comment box because I wanted to say congratulations! And welcome Louisa Jean!

  2. np John, I sometimes get a bit enthusiastic about the details of game mechanics...
    and Thanks! We're tired but blessed by our new arrival.


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