Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Crossfire - Game report and thoughts

...A and B company of 'B' battalion, 22nd Infantry were tasked with a reconaisance in force North of the village of Bomal in the Ardennes, the date was September 9th 1944...

For those who don't know, Crossfire is not your average set of wargame rules, in terms of what it tries to achieve, I think it sits somewhere between a tactical simulation and a roleplaying game. It employs several unique game conventions, or should I say abscence of conventions: lack of a fixed game turn, lack of measuring, uncertainty as to composition of one's own force, etc, etc.

So anyway We had a game on Sunday afternoon where two companies of US infantry with limited armoured support faced an unknown quantity of Germans late on in 1944.

The game unfolds over the terrain with no troops deployed on table. The Germans are all hidden and the Americans are yet to advance on.

Notice the density of the terrain, This is a 6 foot by 4 foot layout, and is covered with blocking terrain. In crossfire, everything blocks line of Sight! Whilst an accurate convention for French Bocage, Stalingrad or Burma; I do wonder how well these rules work with the rolling plains of Russia or the trackless deserts of Libya?

Troops have no set moves, the attacker simply advances until the enemy does something to interrupt him, or one of the attackers actions fails in such a way as to pass the initiative over. Me and my subordinate commander decided that we'd deny the right flank entirely, knowing that the enemy was out there in some force. We figured he'd throw most of his forces at the defence of the village, sure fire tank killer terrain. Instead we advanced from the enemy's old bunker positions towards the forest.

Our war correspondent records the US advance, sadly the next thing that happened was that the forward platoon advanced into the forest, never to be seen again! It became clear later on that they'd been ambushed by a machine gun and around two platoons of the enemy, Bayonet and close quarter gunshot wounds confirmed the few survivor's reports of a swarm of elite SS soldiers ravenous as wolves pouncing on them without mercy. At least, if the reports of replacements are to be believed.

The nature of Crossfire is such that whilst the enemy had to appear to fire on us, he took the first opportunity to disappear also. A second cautious advance towards the emplacement on the hill allowed some emericans to lay fire on the enemy, and call in a tank, that made short work of the survivors. By the time the position was occupied the rest of the enemy had melted away.

This set the nature for the next phases of the attack. The Germans tried to redress their lines to deal with the tank; a Marder III - correctly identified by the Americans as a Tiger tank - was repeatedly missed by American Bazooka fire whilst trying to ambush the Sherman. Meanwhile redeployed machine guns and infantry squads used their guns and mortars to decimate another American Platoon. At this point if it hadn't been for the tank support, the US commanders may well have withdrawn.

It has to be said Tanks are of doubtful value in Crossfire; the defender can buy 3 anti tank guns for the cost of one Tank to the attacker, tanks can either move - in a straight line only, change face, or fire in a turn. Not all three! This makes them staggeringly slow to deploy; however when used correctly they can bring a hell of a lot of fire to bear. The Sherman accounted for more than a platton of the German infantry, without any harm coming to it.

Despite early success, the German flank began to wither under the concentrated US fire, American mortars and machine guns played merry hell with the next, rather exposed positions they found.

The Germans were forced to withdraw under pressure, and fell to relying on Volksturm hiding in the village to try desparately to stop the tank and a sweep by A company, accounting for one squad they too were put under steady fire, from now more cautious troops.

Incidentally, there are no morale rules that I recall using, whether they exist is beyond me, certainly troops are rated with different qualities, but common sense moves them more often than not. The main problem is troops becoming pinned and suppressed under fire. Troops tend to get wiped out rather than running away.

By the end of the game the Marder had been forced to withdraw under threat from Bazooka teams, The Sherman tank, and gutsy infantry armed with grenades and rifles. Each side had lost more than two platoons to enemy fire, which left he American troops pretty much spent, We were happy to hunker down and consider it a draw of sorts.

As to the rules, they have many strengths, but really only for representing certain types of warfare. They are excellent for those situations where the defender is holed up in determined defence and the attacker has only the most basic idea where they are. For more mobile games their application seems limited. More than a couple of vehicle either side simply would not be practical. Moreover it is impossible for the attacker to go on the defensive in the same manner as normally applied to the nominative defender. In short whilst the attacker has a realistic lack of idea about the enemies movements the defender has a godlike power both to see the every move of the enemy, whilst being able to conduct all his deployment and moves in secret. If this seems unfair, then these are rules you will not get along with; but they work in the right situation, with small enough forces.

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