Squad Leader report: Escape from Vilikiye Luki

Central Russia, January 12, 1943. The Germans are having a very bad winter in Russia. Their friends are falling all around, and the troops that remain really want to be somewhere else. Anywhere else. With the local headquarters fallen, it was every man for himself, and small groups of German soldiers crept through the night, trying to avoid the Russian soldiers.

They had one advantage: the Russians had been celebrating their victory. They were noisy. They wanted to be drunk. And the noises of Russian troops moving in the night allowed the Germans some small advantage in slipping past the patrols.

This is scenario 6 of the original Squad Leader, and this is the first time I’ve ever played this scenario. Although this is another 10-turn scenario, the Germans have a mere 5 squads, and the Russians only 13 – with a lot of restrictions on Russian movement. It’s night time, but the Squad Leader night time rules are pretty easy. Except for the Russians, who have started singing. Badly.

Here’s how I set up the troops:

The Germans need to get three of their squads off the board; that is, go from the right-hand board all the way to the west edge on the left-hand side. They’re helped by having a lot of dummy stacks and concealment counter for their troops. And then, it’s night.

The night rules at this stage of the game are fairly basic: roll 2d6 at the start of each game turn; that’s how many hexes distance a squad can see another moving squad. Otherwise, they’re invisible. Oh, and concealment counters don’t disappear very easily. But starburst shells are a thing.

This scenario has another twist: the Russians are boisterous after their recent victories, and so can never been concealed. In addition, they really, really don’t want to move. So, Russian units have to stay where they are unless a leader moves them… or they spot a German unit.

Spotting German units was difficult. Just firing on a concealed stack wasn’t enough: it had to become unconcealed. The chief weapon in the Russian’s defensive arsenal was their leaders’ ability to call star shells down to illuminate the battlefield.

So, could they do it?

It quickly became apparent that there were problems with the Russian set-up. In particular, neither of the leaders was in a good place to place star shells. They needed to have a concealed stack in their line-of-sight, and they weren’t doing that well. Down the south, the Germans managed to eliminate the one Russian unit standing there, clearing the way for a quick dash across the map. In the centre, stacks of dummy units were confusing the issue.

The Russians sent a leader south to pick up the squads who were just singing at the top of the lungs and send them in pursuit of the enemy. Along the way, they got to the top of a hill and managed a particularly lucky shot against the southern German units, breaking them. Unfortunately, this also opened up a hole in the middle which the Germans were quick to exploit. Various dummy stacks were exposed as such and sent scurrying, and the first star shell hit the table – moving over the ridge just to the north of town became something of a risky option.

Things were made easier by most of the central stacks being dummy units, which just durdled around and distracted the Russians a bit while the main Germans units made their way forward.

SL0604a

I play these scenarios solitaire mainly to get a feel for the game and how the rules work. This is just as well, as most of the Russian troops were now utterly useless. I was pulling the Russian leaders out-of-position to gather troops rather than going straight for the enemy. This wasn’t good.

The problems with the Russian set-up were now becoming quite clear: too many of their units were too far forward, and were now unable to activate to chase after the Germans. The German 10-2 leader in the South rallied along with his men, and that position became the Germans again.

Russian leaders moved around, trying to rally men to their cause and bring them in chase of the Germans, This led to some interesting confrontations with the southernmost Germans – the Germans were able to break the approaching trooos, including the leader, and dashed off westwards. Meanwhile, the Russian leader hoped for good rolls so he could rally. In the fighting, one of the German squads was eliminated – two more would give the game to the Russians.

The troops in the middle fired on the concealed Germans moving past them, but ineffectively, and so were unable to pursue due to not having yet seen a confirmed German unit. A star-shell would have been very handy, but none were available. The one remaining Russian leader started madly dashing after the northernmost group of German units, picking up units on the way. The road speed bonus was the one thing that would allow him to catch up quicker, but he’d have to go after the middle squads, as the northernmost squads? They were far, far in front.

SL0605a

The Russian leader in the south (3E9) rallied and, much to my surprise, was able to bring his units all the way up to threaten the German leader and his squad in 3B2. The movement factor count: 3E9->E8 (1)->E7 (3)->E6 (4)->D5 (4.5)->C5 (5)->B4 (6) and then advance to 3B3, adjacent to the Germans. I’m so used to the lower movement bonus of road movement in ASL, it always surprises me when troops scoot all over the map in Squad Leader.

The Germans thought about just fleeing, but they didn’t like their chances of that. Instead, they fired at the Russians during the Prep Fire Phase – no effect. And they were broken during the following Defensive Fire Phase. All the Russians needed was to stop one more squad from escaping.

There was just one problem with that… being that they were dreadfully out of range.

In the end, the poor set-up of the Russian forces doomed their efforts to stop a German victory. This scenario also played the quickest of pretty much any scenario I’ve played for Squad Leader; there just weren’t many units to move. The Germans only had a handful, the Russians had hardly anyone who could move!

As a result, it might be fairly historical…

The night rules are pretty easy to remember. They’d get an overhaul in Chapter E of Advanced Squad Leader; I’m not sure if any of the gamettes ever changed them for Squad Leader.

So, that’s the sixth of twelve scenarios in the original Squad Leader. Half-way there!

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