Baltic Gap (Operational Combat Series) - Doppelkopf playtest scenario

Baltic Gap - Doppelkopf scenario

This is a playtest of the future Baltic Gap OCS game, designed by John Kisner and played during the IXth Lyon Convention (France), 24th November, 2007.
It's a five turn, one map scenario, with a low counter density.

This AAR is also available in pdf format.

Baltic Gap depicts the Soviet drive into the Baltic States during the summer of 1944. As the game begins, the defense of Vitebsk, a few hexes beyond the southeast corner of the playing surface, has just collapsed. 1st Baltic Front is advancing westward through the shredded German line, and will soon threaten all of Army Group North with encirclement.
After four months of fierce battle, the Red Army will finally win the great prize of this campaign, Riga, and pocket the enemy in the Courland region of Latvia.

The game allows players to explore this interesting campaign from a variety of historical and hypothetical vantage points. Long campaign games can be enjoyed by up to five players. Several short scenarios are also provided, and these are best played with a single player per side. Expect each turn of play to take an hour or two, depending on the complexity of the moves and combats.

The players:
Axis player: Dominique Chupin (on the left)
Russian player: Christophe Foley (on the right)

Analysis of the situation for the Axis player:
I can take one point of population rather easily with the taking of Tukums which will unjam the encirclement of Riga at the same time.
On the other hand Raseiniai is close to the front and certainly the main Russian target, fortunately my reinforcements arrive of this side.
Other cities of population are behind the Venta river, I shall have to be able to avoid their capture.

Analysis of the situation for the Russian player:
There are some points of population to be taken: Riga with 4 points (which seems well protected by the German Infantry Divisions), Rasainiai (1 point), Telshiai (1 point), Mazheikiai (1 point), Taurage (1 point). My strategy is simple: let the Axis offensive come, weaken it with my Infantry units and counter-attack with my mechanized units in Reserve mode!
Not knowing by which side the attack will come, I place three Mechanized Divisions in Reserve mode, ready to intervening to block holes...

Victory conditions:
The player who captured the most enemy points of population wins the game.
Turn 1 - Axis initiative
My left wing:
I send the 4th Panzer (Pz) Division, supported by some independent units, to attack the Russians who occupy Tukums. Everything goes well on this side, Russian does not send Reserve, the Russian units were much too advanced with regard to their companions in Reserve mode!

Overall situation from the Russian side during turn 1

My Center:
I also send the 5th, 12th and 14th Pz Division to attack each of the Russian divisions isolated in the front.
Now, things don't happen as well, Russian units in Reserve mode strengthen the village of Papilla which resists to the attack of the 14th Pz!
The village of Auce, held by the Russian, resist to the 12th and 5th Pz Divisions.

My right wing:
I place my 7th Pz Division in position to strengthen the 12th and 14th Pz Divisions if needed and I leave my Gross Deutschland and the artillery assault and Tigers units ready to counter an attack on Raseiniai.
Nothing to say about this side, only a long-lived attack of the Russian with mechanized units.
His main attack will doubtless come from there.

Nothing extraordinary done there, except some Reserve placements.

Turn 1 - Russian Segment
Axis left wing:
A bad placement from the beginning makes me lose Tukums. Too bad, but I have the other objectives in mind, I shall take advantage of other points of population as defined during the analysis of the situation.

The situation is not extraordinary there: I send of some Infantry to strengthen the villages of Papilla and Kurshenai, behind the river Venta. I so block the Telshiai (Axis control) / Shiauliai (Russian control) road and I open the possibility of launching an attack on this axis.

Axis right wing:
I thus let the Pz divisions come to attract them far from their sources of supply and on the verge of the HQ / Patrol Zone projection. I send the 3rd Guard Mechanized Division (placed in Reserve mode) to take position and firmly wait for the Axis without moving too much in the open.

I launch an attack with artillery preparation, but I only obtain few results. My big Artillery units (144 points and 90 points) spend too much supply to be used in an effective way. I decide to send them more in the top of the map, to unjam the situation if necessary.

Situation in the Axis Center and right wing from the Russian point of view at the end of turn 1

End of turn 1:
Axis: 1 point of population - Russian: 0 point of population.

Turn 2 - Axis initiative
My left wing:
I leave my 4th Pz Division units in position move the units in defence, I notice that panzers are good, but they spend lots of Supply!

Situation of the Axis left wing during turn 2

The Russian has strongly strengthened Papilla and it is very difficult for me to make another attack without artillery, the Venta river prevents me from making side movements between my various fronts. It is going to be difficult to use the Panzers to move from side to side to block holes.
I make an attack with the 12th which eventually the units in Auce.
On the other hand, the ineffective artillery on the defenders in Papilla makes me giving up in attacking this village.

Situation of the Axis Center and right wing during turn 2

My right wing:
I am going to try to surround the offensive mechanized units on this wing with my 7th Pz Division which was in waiting there. If I wait too long, he will have time to eliminate my troops accurately one by one.
My attempt of encirclement works, but his Reserves (too numerous to my taste) break the encirclement by Overrunning on the weakest part of my operation.
Furthermore, my artillery will have no expected effect and I am almost short of supply! My attack will have no significant impact, if it is to have lost of pointlessly Supply... The Russian counter-attack could be rough.

Turn 2 - Russian Segment
Axis left wing:
Few activities in this place, I hold the 1st TK Division in Reserve mode behind the front in the city of Jelgava.

I resist in the village of Papilla, mainly by exploiting the river Venta which is a natural obstacle to the Axis player. My hour will come (i.e. two sequence of play in a row) to start gaining some territory there.

Axis right wing:
There is a lightning attack against my 2nd Mechanized Division by the German Pz units and I lose quite a lot of mechanized units. I take advantage of the fact that there are no Axis units in Reserve mode to launch an attack against on the spearhead 7th Pz Division with the 3rd TK Division, cutting part of his units from supply. I shall have to strengthen this position by bringing Infantry units to protect my invaluable mechanized units.

Situation of the Axis Center and right wing at the end of turn 2

End of turn 2:
Axis: 1 point of population - Russian: 0 point of population.

Turn 3 - Russian initiative
Taking advantage of the 2-in-a-row turn segment, I carry out my initial plan: launch a powerful offensive on the village of Telshiai (1 point of population), which falls under the thrusts of my independent mechanized units. To protect the supply path to my HQ, strengthen the road between Telshiai and Shiauliai, both cities now being under my control.

Axis right wing:
I overrun the German Pz units, counter-attacking with my 2nd TK Division and by bringing some Infantry Divisions to hold the position afterwards. The results of this attack speak about themselves with the following photo.

Situation of the Axis right wing during turn 3, after the Russian counter-attack

Turn 3 - Axis Segment
My center:
The Russian takes Telshiai and tries to surround my 14th Pz Division which is stuck in an inconvenient terrain. The lack of supply prevents me from making anything, and I operate what I can to prepare a counter-offensive to bring the 14th Pz Division out of the encirclement.

My right wing:
His counter-offensive is very strong and my 7th Pz Division is in difficulty, more than half of the division disappears and the Gross Deutschland Division is in bad situation, the lack of supply prevents me from acting.

Overall situation of the Axis Center and right wing at the end of turn 3

End of turn 3:
Axis: 1 point of population - Russian: 1 point of population.

Turn 4 - Russian initiative
I continue my offensive by sending a unit with a strong action rating (4) to the village of Kratinga, in order to resist as long as possible to attrition during the Supply phase (the unit is not in supply at this place of the map). It doesn't bring me points of population, but cuts its railroad net and thus its capacity to send reinforcements and supply on its center and left wing.
I launch an attack to take Mazheikiai (1 point of population), a village from which I am approaching dangerously!

Overall situation of the Axis Center and right wing during turn 4

Axis right wing:
I continue once again the offensive on the right wing side of the Axis player, but this time, I change strategy: I shall not push to Tauraga, being out of projection of my HQ but will jump to the South, attacking and taking the village of Rasainiai (1 point of population). I then take advantage of this situation to encircle the rest of the German Pz Divisions and Infantry units which hold this peace of territory.

Situation of the Axis right wing during turn 4

Turn 4 - Axis Segment
My Center:
The Russian sends a unit to the East Prussia border near the port of Memel: I can't prevent him from doing it.
He arrives around Mazheikiai and is not far from cutting the supply of my 14th Pz Division.
I send Prinz Eugen and Lutzow to try to destroy the assault artillery unit which positioned near Memel. I store some supply to counter-attack in the next turn.

My right wing:
It is a disaster, I have several units which are in Low Ammunition and I am in a bad situation, close to destruction.
Once again I cannot do much, the arriving reinforcements prepares a line of defense in the forest of Taurage.

Overall situation of the Axis Center and right wing at the end of turn 4

End of turn 4:
Axis: 1 point of population - Russian: 2 points of population.

Turn 5 - Russian initiative
Axis Center and right wing:
I strengthen my points of population acquired to the enemy by building a wall around the villages of Telshiai and Rasainiai, by keeping an armoured Division in Reserve on the left wing of the Axis player.

Situation of the Axis Center during turn 5

Axis left wing:
I keep an armoured Division in Reserve in case the Axis player would dash into a desperate attack to gain some territory (and points of population) during its segment.

Situation of the Axis left wing during turn 5

Turn 5 - Axis Segment
My Center:
I strongly counter-attack with all the units of the 5th and 12th Pz Divisions which I can supply and I blow up the Russian encirclement around the 14th Pz Division and the other units who come to deliver them.

Situation of the Axis center at the end of turn 5

My right wing:
Nothing can save Raseiniai from being captured and I just restore a line of defense in front of the city of Taurage.

The Dead Pile at the end of the game

End of turn 5:
Axis: 1 point of population - Russian: 2 points of population.

Axis player's notes:
The axis lacks supply to move all of his units, (i.e. a large number of panzers). 4 points per turn, if we count the tokens needed for defence, doesn't leave many possibilities to the German and I often had to watch the Russian play, without being able to counter him.
German doesn't have enough Infantry units to defend all of the front, so he must use his panzers to fill this task for half of the front (which can't be done), and which explains Russian breakthrough at Telshiai.
The Venta river cuts the German front in two! The bridges which cross this river are directed East-West, which doesn't help the German player for side movements: the 14th Panzer was stuck between two parts of this river.

My defence would have been better if I had stayed behind the river.

Difficult to make a good defence with Panzers not supplied to move / attack.
It's a logical victory for the Russian player who knew how to take advantage of his Reserve units, which came to be an unpleasant surprise for myself.

Russian player's notes:
A particular point for the Russian player: none of the rail is converted on the map, thus possibility of land extension is reduced for the Russian player. The use of an Extender just allows to cover approximately half of the map.

The Russian player has almost twice as many air strike strength than the Axis player: it will be necessary to use this strength with efficiency to disrupt a maximum of Axis units which would venture out of some PZ! Furthermore, the artillery units are very powerful, but considering the few supply available, it is almost impossible to use them (it is necessary to spend 2.5 points of supply just to feed the strongest artillery of 144 points!).

To resume:
- Axes of attack for both sides (6 Mechanized Divisions on each side, that hurts!);
- Not too much supply (about 5 SP per turn);
- An air superiority for the Russian player (in quantity and in quality) with notably the Guards air units which compete with Luftwaffe without any problems;
- A pocket around Riga very difficult to reduce for the Russian player;
- The pocket of Courland in the process of formation which seems to be one of a major axe of attack for the Russian player.

Except for some big passages on clear terrain for Panzers (to put quickly under control by the Russian player), it's mostly a war of attrition between the 2 sides. There's only one road crossing the map, for the rest, it requires to use railroads to cross rivers and difficult terrain.

The Russian player must throw some of his Divisions towards Prussia to gain some Population points.
The Axis player has the possibility to open a breach towards Riga, at the opposite side of the axe of attack of the Russian player (a sort of rotating mêlée).
To conclude, a marginal victory for the player Russian, which can be summarized as: no trumpets, no drums!

Notes on the balance of the scenario:
Victory conditions:
Considering the shared comments of both players, notably on the difficulty of a steady and continuous action of the Axis player during its offensive, the conditions of victory could be modified in favour of the Axis player. For example, to add some spice to the game play, the conditions of victory could be the followings:
- Control of population <= 0 for the Russian player: Axis victory;
- Control of population of 1 for the Russian player: Draw;
- Control of population > 1 for the Russian player: Russian victory.

The scenario only gives 4 SPs to move 5 Panzer Divisions and to fight... plus the supply needed for defence, against the Russians in 1944 (i.e. that is aggressive and on steroids!). It could be useful to increase the number of SPs given to the Axis player to 6 or 7 points, at least for the first 3 turns of the scenario, to leave a chance for the Russian player to launch one counter-attack from turn 3 to five.

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Comment by John Kranz on March 1, 2008 at 10:22am
ER Bickford does great AAR work. When he is introduced to this site, I'm sure he will be blog contributor. I'll be making the official announcement next week as I'm about wrapping up testing at this point.
Comment by Eric Walters on March 1, 2008 at 9:32am
I wish we could see more replays like this--and in such an excellent format. Awesome....
Comment by Christophe Foley on March 1, 2008 at 8:58am
Thanks John!
And also a big thank to John Kisner and Dean Essig for letting us playtest this future hit!
Comment by Daniel Gagnon on March 1, 2008 at 12:42am
Certainly answers my initial musings about how this site could be used !
Comment by John Kranz on February 29, 2008 at 11:54am
Great blog entry! Kudos, Christophe!! This is what also distinguishes this site from our newsdesk, for example, where only publisher/industry related news gets published. Here, anyone can be a contributor!

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