Musing on Breakthrough Objectives for Crossfire Scenarios

I have only played the HTD scenario “The Island” once, a fair few years ago with Rich Wilcox. The game revealed a flaw in Breakthrough objectives. The attacker just makes a hole and pours through. More recently Dick Bryant play tested my SU-76i in 1902nd SAP – A Crossfire Scenario, which was based on “The Island”. Dick found the same problem. So it seems time to revisit Breakthrough objectives for Crossfire scenarios.

Goal of a Breakthrough

Here is how I defined the goal of a Breakthrough scenario:

The objective of a breakthrough attack is to breach the enemy defences and push on into the rear of his positions. In game terms the attacker must exit the opposite table edge (ideally whilst maintaining a good line of communication to ones own base line). The defender is trying to prevent this. Neither, one or both sides might get points for inflicting casualties (indicated by an A, D or AD after the type).

Flawed Breakthrough victory conditions

The victory conditions of the Island (HTD, p. 9-10) focussed on destroying enemy and the attacker exiting troops off the enemy rear edge:

At scenario’s end, tally victory points (VPs) for each side to determine this scenario’s winner. The Soviet player receives 1 VP for every German squad, HMG, CC, antitank gun or Panzer destroyed and 2 VPs for every Soviet Squad, HMG, CC, and vehicle that exits the south game board edge. The German player receives 1 VP for every Soviet squad, HMG, CC, or BC, and 2 VPs for every AFV destroyed. The scenario ends immediately when either side has 20 VPs worth of casualties, at which time VPs are tallied.

Special Rule 4, The Moving Cock, is in use. The scenario starts at 0600 and ends at 1200. The clock advances 1/3rd of n hour on 5+ on one die at the end of each German initiative phase.

Not surprisingly my draft SU-76i in 1902nd SAP Crossfire Scenario had similar victory conditions:

Breakthrough and Casualty (AD) objectives

The game starts at 0800 hours and ends when either the clock reaches 1700 hours or either side suffers 18 victory points (VP) worth of casualties. A side is awarded VP for destroying enemy:

  • 0 VP for each enemy FO, PC, and Sniper.
  • 1 VP for each enemy BC, CC, HMG, Rifle Squad, SMG Squad, and Gun.
  • 2 VP for each enemy tank/SPG.

The Russians get bonus VP if they get stands off the western table edge but only if they also manage to kill 10+ VP worth of Germans. As a bonus they get:

  • 2 VP for each BC, CC, HMG, Rifle Squad, SMG Squad, Gun, or tank/SPG that exits the western table edge.

At the end of the game, count up the VP as above.

My victory conditions are almost identical to the “The Island” with the added constraint that the attacker has to kill a minimum number of defenders. I included this to encourage the attacker to stay around and fight.

It’s worth having a look at the map for my scenario as well. Lots of fields. Lots of LOF blocking terrain.

Table SU-76i - Original

Table SU-76i – Original

This is what Dick had to say following his play test:

I tried this scenario as a US-German affair, giving the US M-36 for the SUs. It was a walkover for the US, totally over by the 4 US initiative. … Once the US found an open spot, they were able to pour the armor through to off table as well as one whole company. I was testing the moving clock against a Chess clock and on neither did the Germans reach the time for their reinforcements. We continued the game as it was too early to go home and the Germans were essentially ground up and still did not reach reinforcements.

A fairly damning result indicating a serious flaw in the draft scenario and/or the map.

Possible Solutions

When Dick sent through his feedback I suggested a few options to address the problem with SU-76i in 1902nd SAP Crossfire Scenario. My experience with “The Island” suggests the main problem is the victory conditions although my map could do with some tweaks. These are more or less independent options although some could be combined:

  1. Make fields out of season
  2. Swap some rough ground for some fields, perhaps 1/3 of them
  3. Shrink the size of the fields
  4. Turn the table sideways so the attackers have to the length of the table rather than the width. That would pose interesting challenges for both sides particularly if .. .
  5. Change the victory conditions to encourage the attacker to keep the lines of communications open, so the defending reinforcements are to close the gap

Open up lines of fire

The first three suggestions are about opening lines of fire so are specific to SU-76i in 1902nd SAP Crossfire Scenario and “The Island”. In both scenarios there are a lot of fields and they are in-season. I’ve done a bit a research – which I’ll post soon – about when fields in the USSR were “in-season” and there is a fair chance that in Aug-Sep the fields would be out-of-season. With that change you don’t need rough ground.

In the map with my scenario the fields are also large and hence fill the table. In hindsight they are bigger than I’d normally have my terrain features in Crossfire. Here is a redrawn map with smaller features. That opens up lines of sight even if the fields are “in-season”.

Table SU-76i from Long Edge

Table SU-76i from Long Edge

Fight the length of the table

Dick liked the idea of turning the table sideways and fighting down the table. This means the defender defends on a narrow frontage (making it easier for them) and the attacker has further to penetrate (making it harder for them). Here is the same map but with the Russians attacking from the short edge.

Table SU-76i from Short Edge

Table SU-76i from Short Edge

Change the victory conditions

I like the last suggestion. The aspect of Breakthrough Objectives that I haven’t simulated in the victory conditions is holding the corridor open after the breakthrough has occurred, and despite the efforts of the defenders to close the gap. The purpose of the defending reinforcements is now to close the gap behind the penetration.

With that in mind I’m musing that something with these elements might work better:

  1. Attacker is still trying to get troops off table but has to keep the lines of communications open:
    • Attacker gets victory points for breakthrough troops and no points for killing defenders
      • Cap the number of breakthrough troops or limit the breakthrough troops to those that leave in a single initiative, i.e. “this is the breakthrough moment”
      • A breakthrough should give enough victory points for a draw result but no more
    • Attacker gets more victory points for breakthrough troops that leave the table earlier
    • Attacker gets more victory points if they have a line of communication open at the end of the game
  2. Defender is trying to prevent the breakthrough, and if there is a breakthrough to close the gap.
    • No points for killing attackers
    • If a breakthrough occurs, the defenders reinforcements arrive earlier. These represent a local counter-attack to seal the penetration.

I want to avoid the attacker just trying to kill all of the defenders. That isn’t the point. Although killing all the defenders guarantees there are open lines of communications.

I need to decide what a “line of communication” is. I think it is a path of friendly features that goes from the enemy base edge to the friendly base edge. But what is a “friendly feature”? Is it:

  • Physically contains no enemy stands. Could contain friendly stands or be empty.
  • Physically contains no enemy stands and is also not in the line of fire of any enemy. This is a much harsher constraint.

The bit about “a line of communication open at the end of the game” suggests a clock of some kind. Actually the defending reinforcements implied a clock anyway.

Scenarios to rethink

Obviously needs a bit more thought and some play testing. I haven’t used Breakthrough Objectives too often however there are a few on my site and these need revisiting:

Astrang Crossings – A Crossfire Scenario is also a Breakthrough scenario. There are several other factors that mean the victory conditions are different so it might not suffer from the same issues as the scenarios above.

3 comments to Musing on Breakthrough Objectives for Crossfire Scenarios

  • Dick Bryant

    Its great that you are re-visiting these breakthrough scenarios. We plan to try the game again by attacking the long way and I will use the more open map. The main problem I saw with the first try is that the defender could not cover any more than a small portion of his base line with firepower because of the limited LOS. He usually had no more than one terrain piece away from his own that he could fire into or use his offboard on because of limited Observer LOS. We will be trying this in mid to late Jan. I will report back!
    Happy New Year!
    Charge! There are no lead widows*

    * This comes from being in too many CF games where the players are frozen in place by the potential loss of even one stand!!!

  • Ross

    Have you considered a change of initiative occurring each time the attacker gets a unit (up to a platoon, in the case of a group move) off the table? It does tinker with one of the fundamentals of Crossfire, but it would solve the problem of pouring through in a single initiative. The rationale could be that the front-line troops have been ordered to stop any breakthroughs and have just been given a signal from an off-table rear guard (e.g. by radio, flare, or coloured smoke) that the enemy are breaking through. This is their prompt to act.

    • Steven Thomas

      good idea. It slows the breakthrough. Admittedly in a slightly non-Crossfire way. I was already contemplating doing something similar for a withdrawal scenario, i.e. only let the defender remove a platoon at a time.

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