I’m in the process of writing a solo campaign for Portuguese Colonial War called “African Tour”. This process has been dragging on for years. Instead of sitting with my computer imagining what might make a good game, I decided to experiment with some of my ideas. So I invited Jamie Wish over, we got out my (previously unused) figures and tried an ambush scenario for Crossfire and my Fogo Cruzado variant.
Despite the scenario design misgivings I had before we started, it was actually a pretty good game. Exciting and novel.
In my draft campaign system you roll to determine who is being ambushed (Government or Insurgents) and what is being ambushed (Patrol or Convoy). But, given this was an experiment, I thought it fair to let Jamie choose the side (he went for Insurgent) and conduct the ambush (I expected to get hammered). I took a Portuguese foot patrol rather than a convoy to keep things simple in our first attempt.
We set up a 4′ x 4′ table and Jamie put down the terrain as I organised lights. I think there were about 30 terrain pieces, so less than my normal 40-50 terrain features on a table this size. But it looked about right so we left it at that. Actually, I have to say, it looked pretty good. This is the first time my Shanty town and palm trees have appeared on table. It is amazing how relatively few geographically specific features transformed the table.
The table was nominally divided into a grid with 9 equal sized sectors (each 16″ x 16″). We numbered the sectors from 1 to 9. Then we rolled a die to see which sector the ambush would occur in. Jamie threw a 5 so it was in the centre sector of the table, which happened to have the shanty town in it.
We had, more or less, identical forces and I gave Jamie three Sneakers for concealed deployment and hidden movement. Jamie allocated troops to his three Sneakers and then placed his three Sneakers in ambush positions in the central sector. We were using my Animal Blinds: Ghosts in the African Darkness as Sneaker markers. Jamie got the Hippo, Giraffe and Lion.
I then asked Jamie to place the head of my patrol column. This was the most radical scenario design choice I made. Many Vietnam style games have patrols wandering around looking for the enemy. The idea is to build up tension because you never know where Charlie is. This approach works in many game systems because movement is so slow. But it doesn’t really work in Crossfire. So I decided to go for a more cinematic approach and start the game when the action starts, i.e. when the ambush is triggered.
Jamie chose to place the head of my column right in the middle of the village, in line of sight to two sneakers. I placed the stands of my patrol in one long single file column with a stand width between elements of the column. Of course I chose to have them positioned away from the enemy Sneakers. The deployment rules (one stand width between stands) meant the front of my column was entirely in the open and only the rear elements were in cover. Ouch. [It didn’t occur to me until afterwards that I could have run my column through a building.]
We were using the Moving Clock. The game would last at most 30 minutes and the clocked advanced 5 minutes on 5+ at the end of each of the second player with initiative (in this case Jamie). Victory points were awarded for casualties.
As I mentioned above, the game started with the first shots of the ambush. We rolled to determine which side starts with initiative. I figured the ambusher does not necessarily start, because something might give away the ambushing force’s presence. This uncertainty gives the ambushed force a chance to turn the tables.
As it happens I got first initiative and tried to move the third G3 rifle team in the column. Jamie revealed the troops from the Lion Sneaker to my right and fired with two AK47 Rifle teams. One of the shooters scored a natural kill. Ouch.
Jamie then revealed the Hippo Sneaker where the rest of his riflemen were. He took a shot at the Command Team of my Combat Group but only pinned it. [After the game I realised we’d forgotten the target priority rules. Jamie should have fired at the lead stand of my column. Not that I think it affected the game in any meaningful way.]
I wanted to seize the initiative so thought I’d throw troops out to the flanks. My first effort didn’t turn out so well because I’d forgotten a key rule. I retreat moved a rifle team out of some elephant grass and moved them left. It was only after they were out of sight of my Command Team that I remembered that Portuguese Caçadores only have okay command and control, in other words the commander has to be able to see them at the start of any move action. Now that my riflemen were out of sight they couldn’t move any more. Ooops. For the rest of the game I was going to have to run my Command Team around like crazy to get all of the troops moving.
So I left the lost sheep and pushed a couple of G3 teams towards the right.
My redeployment meant I had all the elements I needed for a Crossfire group fire. My Command Team could see four of the G3 teams and the target. Bingo! Two suppressions in a row caused a kill.
My boys were on a roll and destroyed the next AK47 team in sight.
I then sent in one of the G3 teams to round up any surviving insurgents. In game turns this was close combat between a rifle team and unaccompanied Commander and Forward Observer. Neither of the latter can fight in close combat so I got an automatic kill on both.
Having taken out one insurgent concentration I turned my attention to the other big group and kept pushing stands right.
After a couple more move actions I spotted a possible insurgent line of fire that would hit me if I advanced on the right any further. So I set up defensive positions and my Command Team headed towards the other flank.
My Command Team set up near the Shanty town to make it easier to control the troops as they moved around. With a bit of Smoke I managed to pull the lead G3 team out of its exposed position in the centre of the town.
Then I looked even further left and advanced a couple of stands – a G3 team and a supporting bazooka team – up my left flank to threaten the insurgents.
My Command Team dashed back to the right to control yet another advance. I risked insurgent fire, got a No Fire, and so could moved right up close to the distracted enemy.
I looked weaker on my left so Jamie had a go at the two teams I had over there. What he hadn’t noticed is I had a line of fire from a team further away, in my original patrol positions, shielding the two teams he was focussed on. I got lucky and pinned his assaulting AK47 team.
A suppression from rifle fire and a strike by my 60mm mortar team on the same target showed that Jamie’s new position was a bit exposed. I’d also managed, with my troops on the right flank to cut off his escape route off table. So Jamie conceded.
Observations and conclusions
Surprisingly it was a great game. We both enjoyed it. Lots of flavour and considerable tension. We’re looking forward to trying more games in this period.
But as it was an experiment I think it worth going through the various things we tried and experienced to see whether they worked.
A 4′ x 4′ with a reasonable amount of terrain gives lots of options for an ambush type of scenario. Splitting the table into nine sectors and randomly determining the ambush location seemed to work. It prevents whoever places the terrain from having a significant advantage over the guy setting up the lights.
Starting with the first shots
Starting with the first shots was the biggest design gamble and it paid off. It didn’t unbalance the game as although I lost a rifle team straight off but still managed to counter attack and win the game. And it made the game gripping from the start.
Getting the ambushing player to place the head of the column ensured we’d start with a blast.
In this game at least using Sneakers for concealed deployment and hidden movement didn’t add much value.
For a start, Jamie never moved the Sneakers. He just revealed them when they needed to fire. Hidden movement is the only reason for introducing Sneakers. In an ambush situation the ambusher isn’t going to be doing much movement. Just shooting. So Sneakers were the wrong game mechanism to use.
In a normal Crossfire game the defenders, in this case ambushing insurgents, would be hidden. That has the right feel as it makes the guy being ambushed really uncertain about where the bad guys are. But there is a big change in scenario design from three Sneakers, which you can see on table, to unconstrained hidden deployment. Although I didn’t know which Sneaker had which troops I knew where the Sneakers were and deployed my patrol accordingly, i.e. away from them. If I didn’t know where he was deployed, and he could deploy in more than three locations, I would have been in a much more vulnerable position.
I suspect it was the Sneakers, limited to three and known location, that prevented a Portuguese massacre.
Next time I’ll consider using hidden deployment for the ambushing side, but constrained somehow. Options are:
- Use Sneakers but only as markers of where the ambushing troops can hide
- Give the ambushing side hidden deployment but limit the number of features they can hide in
- Restrict the ambushing side to one side of the patrol. This might involve deploying the patrol first.
Using Animal Blinds: Ghosts in the African Darkness as Sneaker markers added a bit of flavour.
In our game the two sides were evenly matched. Often an ambushing force would be much smaller, take a few shots and bail out. But that wouldn’t make such a great game. Having evenly matched forces encouraged both sides to have a go.
We’d need to experiment a bit more before deciding a general rule for the orders of battle in an ambush scenario.
We rolled for who starts with initiative, and it was me, but I think next time I’ll do it differently. I think I’ll automatically give initiative to the side that is walking into the ambush. This gives does two things:
- It gives the patrol a chance to spot the enemy with RBF, if they want to try
- It gives the patrol a chance to try a move action. Which is likely to draw reactive fire.
Worth a try.
The alternative is to always give the ambushing force first shot. Which would put the game balance directly on their side.
Command & Control
Command & Control as a big problem for me. In a normal Crossfire game a company would have 9-12 fighting stands and at least three commanders (PCs) that can direct movement and fire. I had eight fighting stands and one commander. This is a direct consequence of going for 1-to-1 scale Crossfire and not representing squad commanders. A single commander directing 8 fighting stands with only okay Command & Control, who need to see the start of a move action, is a challenge.
I’ll have a think about this. A couple of options:
- Give all Combat Group sized forces at least two commanders. I have the second in command figures for most of my African forces, including for the insurgents in our game did have two command stand (a Commander and a Political Officer) so it was just the Portuguese Caçadores who had this problem. Easy enough to do, I just paint one more figure.
- I could just assume the squad commander is in one of the fire teams of each squad, and allow movement based on that. For example, “In the absence of a command stand, a stand can satisfying Command & Control movement restrictions if it has line of sight to two rifle teams of same squad (and if it is a rifle squad itself then it counts as one of these).” So a squad could advance without a commander in sight. This might be too generous as it effectively makes them behave quite like troops with Good Command & Control, who don’t need a commander to move.
How many stands in a Crossfire
I have not restricted how many stands can contribute to a Crossfire. So, in the two Crossfires of the game, I had four G3 stands firing. That is quite a lot of fire power but still less than is common in a normal Crossfire game where (1) all early war Soviet platoons start with four rifle stands and (2) any nationality can field one or two HMG stands with a 3-4 stand rifle platoon. So the Portuguese managed to bring down quite a lot of fire power but not an unreasonable amount. No change required (so far).
I won. We didn’t really need the VP system to show that. Aside from one mortar team, the entire insurgent force were either killed or captured.
But this is what I had in mind before the game. Victory points were awarded for casualties. In my campaign system additional VP were awarded for a kill in Close Combat on the assumption that a prisoner is taken. And government casualties are more costly than insurgent.
- +10 VP for each insurgent stand killed in Close Combat
- +5 VP for each insurgent stand killed in a Fire action
- -10 VP for each government stand killed in a Fire action
- -20 VP for each government stand killed in Close Combat
I’m no longer convinced about the government casualties being worth more VP than the insurgent casualties. Historically the insurgent were pretty adverse to casualties and would run in preference to losing value cadres.
I will retain the VP bonus for close combat. Seems to fit the period. So double VP is the stand is taken in close combat.