Four of us had a go at my Crossfire scenario 92nd Naval in Stalingrad. The essence is that a German battalion is trying to push through the centre of Stalingrad to the Volga. In their way are the newly off the boat men of the 92nd Naval Infantry Brigade. Being a urban battle it has similarities with 2 Foot City and Tarnopol: SU-152s Up Close and Personal. We used Planned Operational Zones for the multi-player aspect.
The players were:
- German Attacker: Chris Harrod, Dave Kenny
- Soviet Defenders: Steven Thomas, Mike Lowery
I’ve played Crossfire a lot, Chris has played a bit, and Dave and Mike have played only a couple of games each. It turned out that Chris and I faced each other whilst Dave and Mike fought it out on the other flank.
Deployment was complicated The black dotted lines on the map is the front line. The Red and Blue dotted lines are the location of Soviet and German platoons.
As we were using Planned Operational Zones each side had to plot the operational zone for each player. The map shows these – look for the heavy blue line (German) and the heavy red line (Soviet).
The Russians went for a slightly unorthodox deployment. Our boundary zigzagged across the table. Essentially Mike deployed forward on the northern-right flank and I was responsible for everything else. The plan was for Mike to attack forward into the German deployment zone, whilst I pinned anybody in front of me. One of my platoons was deployed back and formed the overall reserve. Yellow blocks are the Soviet strong points. The M is the minefield – we mined one of our bunkers! In hindsight I would have put it any number of other places, but hey. We also had three snipers (S) and two anti-tank guns (76, 45).
I must admit it felt pretty thin on the ground. We had massive holes in our lines. The question was, would the Germans find them.
The picture is the same layout as it looked on the table. It uses a slightly different key/colours though.
Chris, as German commander, split the table into two, giving Dave the smaller frontage but more troops (Company 1). This was to be the focus of their attack and ultimately they had almost two companies (including reserves) crammed into this channel. Chris spread out his company over the larger southern sector. His job was to pin any Russians to his front. Chris initially got the two panzers.
Mike and I were quite worried by this deployment. It was a pretty good plan: using a concentrated attack to punch through to the base line. Mike had a single platoon in front of nearly two companies. That was going to hurt, and we couldn’t see it lasting long.
0600 hours and we’re off …
Chris took the first moves by creeping into the unoccupied buildings to his front. And, aside from some minor tweaks later, that is where his men stayed for the duration.
A lot more activity happened on the far flank.
Chris pushed forward a platoon in a building complex that spanned the boundary between his and Dave’s operational zones. Chris also transferred the two panzers to Dave’s command.
Crossing the boundary of the operational zones was to be a feature of the game. The German players wanted troops to move across more freely than Planned Operational Zones allowed. This house rule says an action involving any stands outside their operational zone had to be preceded by a successful activation roll (4+). This included direct fire, indirect fire. reactive fire, group fire, movement, group movement – anything where at least one of the stands was outside the zone. Transfer of battalion level assets also required a 4+. Company level assets couldn’t transfer. Failure in all cases meant the initiative passed, which in this game, because the Russians didn’t move much, just meant there was a chance of time passing .
It got exciting when Dave drove his Panzers around the corner. Mike revealed the 76mm field gun (and a CC) in the rubble in the street and knocked out one of the panzers. He then man handled the gun back into the strong point on the corner. (Before you ask, the gun was in the rubble so it had better lines of fire than if it had started in the bunker. A retreat move meant it was fairly likely to make it back into the strongpoint once it had fired its first shot.)
Dave then moved up supporting infantry. A platoon rushed the rough ground in front of the gun. He also brought forward another platoon into the building on the Russian right flank.
Mike had a platoon hidden here, and elements of this platoon revealed themselves and close assaulted the invaders, destroying them (“Urrrah”). They then took pot shots out the window and suppressed a HMG in the middle of the street. All rather successful.
Dave, of course, had significant numbers of reserves and piled more troops into the complex.
He also smoked off the 76mm in the strong point to protect his surviving tank. He did this over many initiatives although it took 3 Forward Observers working in tandem to do it, and eventually he was going to fail.
With the smoke down, Dave rolled his Panzer forward to blast Mike’s sailors at point blank range. We were playing our normal house rule of ignoring the -1d6 protective cover for direct fire HE, and we’d upped the HE of the Pz IIIs for this game (I wanted to use a Stug III but didn’t have any painted grey), giving the Panzers 4d6 into cover!!! Very effective, but the Russians held on grimly.
Despite the smoke the threat of the 76mm gun to his front eventually got the better of Dave, and the surviving Panzer reversed around the corner into cover.
This gave the sailors a much needed chance to rally.
Having recovered from point blank range tank fire, the Sailors went German hunting through the building. More kills for the Motherland. Mike was grinning ear to ear; Dave was pulling his hair out.
But as the Sailors withdrew from a room, Germans followed them. (The plaintive cry of “We just can’t kill enough of them” but from the Russian perspective.)
Eventually Dave pushed a platoon into the last unexplored sector of the complex … and found more Russians. Unfortunately these were not as robust as their colleagues and they quickly succumbed to the German assault.
In the heat of the moment Chris thought he’d capture the building complex in the centre. He had two goes. The first time Mike gunned down the offending stand. Chris responded with smoke (you can see it in the left hand side of the picture). The second attempt also resulted in Russians being revealed, shooting, and another suppressed German stand in the middle of the road.
It was also about now that Chris’s Company Commander got drilled through the forehead by one of the Russian snipers. Chris took this rather personally.
After much humming and hawwing Dave eventually close assaulted the brave Sailors holding out in the forward zone. They died to a man defending against overwhelming numbers.
(This failure was probably due to the fact that Mike had had to run for the train – a feature of life in the UK – and I threw the crucial close combat die roll.)
But it had taken Dave two game hours (about 2.5 real hours) to clear one block. And he had suffered considerable losses.
Dave then went on to clear the next city block, including the strongpoint occupied by the 76mm field gun.
Dave was on a roll and pushed his troops through the convoluted hallways of the building complex. Eventually he ran into the boundary with Chris’s Operation Zone and stopped.
The Germans had to decide what to do:
- Let Chris handle the remaining bit of the complex.
- Let Dave cross the boundary but risk losing initiative each time he did anything. .
- Move the boundary of the operational zones.
They opted to move the operation zones.
As you can see the operational zone just shifted over a couple of building sectors. Enough for Dave to finish clearing the building complex he was in.
In the last moves of the game Dave took the centre building complex and eliminating the Russian platoon defending it.
Mike’s company had been wiped out, although mine had not seen action.
But it was 1 a.m. real time and we called it a night.
Between them Dave and Chris had secured building complexes worth 16 victory points (VP). But they had lost a tank (2 CP) and 12 other stands in the fighting; mostly against Mike’s forward platoon. So the net result was 2 VP = a Decisive Russian Victory.
They didn’t know it, but I only had one sniper left in the other two building sectors in front of Dave. If we’d played on the Germans could easily have picked up another 6 VP, which would have changed the result to a Minor Russian Victory and was just one VP short of a Draw.
Was a Russian victory a fair result? Probably. The German plan was sound with one flank to hold/pin, and weight the numbers on the other flank to smash through. And on their attacking flank, commanded by Dave, the Germans had overwhelming numbers – nearly two companies, plus tanks. And from the outside the plan seemed to work. They captured most of the buildings, particularly those in front of Dave.
The trouble was that Mike’s forward platoon held Dave up for 2 hours game time (3 real hours) and at the expense of 13 German stands. This was the fighting in an around the first building complex just in front of Dave’s start line. Admittedly a more experienced player than Dave could have pushed through faster, and possibly with less casualties, but the whole action did have the right feel. Each move was surrounded by a high level of fear and trepidation. But once Mike’s forward troops were eliminated there was actually no change in German tactics. They continued to their slow creep forward, even occasionally being distracted by visible enemy to the flank (enemy that Chris’s troops were covering). Even when Dave had wiped out Mike’s company, he didn’t know this and his moves were still slow and deliberate in the face of an empty table. It was fascinating to watch, at least for Mike and I.
Dave’s hyper-caution was doubly fascinating as he is naturally a very aggressive player. In other game systems, notably DBx and role-playing, Dave has a reputation as being mad rash and impetuous. We’d expected him to behave the same in Crossfire, but it wasn’t to happen. I couldn’t help contrasting this to my own reputation. I’m thought of as being a super cautious defensive player in other game systems, but in Crossfire I’m quite aggressive. The truth is that winning at Crossfire is all about balancing risk and reward; so being risk adverse isn’t a winning strategy. Crossing a street under the cover of smoke is good, but you don’t always have a handy forward observer to oblige. The trick is judging which streets to cross without smoke, which close combats to attempt without suppressing the enemy first, which stands to try to rally, and which other actions to try before you do the rally, etc. This judgement is something you only pick up with experience, and as I mentioned above Dave had only played a couple of games of Crossfire before.
All of this made the battle very frustrating for Chris. For five hours he watched his beautiful plan fall to pieces as the Russian sailors mauled his subordinate’s troops. Chris kept giving Dave more or less sound advice, much of which Dave chose to ignore for reasons of his own. From my perspective this is one of the beauties of multi-player gaming. A commanding officer can encourage and advise, but for better or worse it is the man on the ground who calls the shots.
As with Tarnopol: SU-152s Up Close and Personal we found a battle on a small but building rich table is very intense and takes a long time to play through. After the usual preliminaries (set up, pizza, cider, chat) we essentially started the game at 8 pm. 5 1/2 hours later, at 1.30 am, long after Mike had run for the train, we packed it in. Crossfire on a normal table flows much faster than this. There is nothing wrong with how long the game took, but it is a factor to bear in mind when setting up a scenario.
Chris and Dave’s use of the Panzers was interesting. They rolled them forward, lost one but scored some success with the other firing at point blank range. Then they got cold feet and backed the survivor into cover. Finally after mulling over the odds for a while they realised that 4d6 into cover is very potent compared to rifle and machine gun fire, and rolled the tank forward again. This is exactly what the “no -1d6 protective cover for direct fire HE into buildings” house rule is designed to encourage, so once again that rule seems justified.
Moving to the multi-player aspect, this was the first real play test of the Planned Operational Zones house rule. Although we’ve played with the table informally divided into operational zones before, it was the first time we’d quantified how to move troops between them. We played that 4+ is required for each of 1) act outside operation zone, 2) transfer battalion assets, 3) move the boundary between operational zones.
Planned Operational Zones meant the boundary between the German operational zones caused some awkward loses in initiative for the Germans. Usually this involved Chris’s troops who were straddling the boundary. This loss of initiative is an artificial aspect of Planned Operational Zones but did discourage free movement across the boundary, which is exactly the intent of the rule. It didn’t hinder shooting across the boundary, which seems fair enough, after all …
In attack “the company commander supports attacks by the neighboring company with fire; however, in doing so he must always keep in mind that the best support for his neighbors is his own determined advance.” (Sharp, C. S. (1998). Soviet Infantry Tactics in WWII: Red Army Infantry Tactics from Squad to Rifle Company from the Combat Regulations. George Nafziger. p. 66).
As a result of this play test I have made some of the rolls harder/easier. It is now 3+ to act outside operation zone, which is easier but still risky. It is still 4+ to transfer battalion assets. Moving the boundary is much harder as it threatens the initiative of all players involved; they must each roll 4+ at the same time, and risk losing initiative unless all make the roll. For me this simulates trying to get all the company commanders together in one place to issue orders – something that is tricky in the middle of a fire fight.