Thursday, 20 August 2015

Metal under tension

A quickie update.

This past weekend Mi Hermano Chofer Jonesy and I popped over the Pennines into the Land of Mordor for a day of gaming with an assorted band of reprobates, including T'uther Chris, Marvin the Arvn and No-Nickname Tony.  In addition to assorted card/board games, I persuaded the guys to have a go at AirWar C21.

The scenario was an obvious continuation of the last Paradiso game - with both sides stalemated on the ground, both sides sent ground attack aircraft with fighter escorts to try to break the deadlock.  A beermat-sized target area was placed in the centre of the table, and any damage points caused by ground attacks made in that zone counted as victory points.  Culo Raton sent four Shenyang F6s loaded for ground strikes with rocket pods, with an escort of four Mig-21s, while the Paradisan Air Force rolled up with their four Super Tucanos escorted by a flight of four F5E Tiger IIs.

To reflect the relatively small numbers of aircraft available to third-world/developing airforces, I ruled that the loss of any jet aircraft would equate to -5 victory points - in a situation where a single aircraft might represent 10% or more of a nation's air force, it makes sense to encourage players to conserve their forces and avoid "banzai attacks".  Because they are much cheaper and easily replaced, I ruled that the Super Tucano turboprops only cost -1 victory point if lost (which I thought slightly compensated for their slower speed and inferior air-to-air combat capability.

It's always interesting to watch other people play a game for the first time and form their own opinions about how to do things.  The Paradiso players both decided to try out Special Manoeuvres in the second turn of the game before the opposing sides had made contact.  Unfortunately a bad run of dice rolls meant that all the F5Es failed.  Two immediately went into stalls which took several turns to recover from, and one of the other two presented its tailpipe to an oncoming Culo Raton Mig-21, who took advantage of the situation and scored the first kill of the game.

As expected a large cluster of airplanes converged on the target area, but it was at this point that the Culo Raton players revealed their fiendish strategy.  They chose to forgo ground attacks with their Shenyang F6s which instead used their guns to join in the air-to-air combat.  The Tucanos all managed to reach the target area and unload their rockets, but two of them fell to the combined gunfire of the Culo Raton planes.  Ironically, the remaining two Tucanos had a Mig-21 fly right in front of them and even with their puny .30 cal machine guns were able to cripple the jet, which limped home.

The battle devolved into a big hairy furball, but the Paradisans never quite got back into the game and withdrew once the Tiger IIEs had expended their Sidewinders.  This left the Culo Raton aircraft free to bombard the target area unopposed.  Having splashed one Tiger and two Tucanos at the cost of only one Mig21 damaged, they were easily the clear victors.

Everyone had a good time, except possibly No-Nickname Tony, whose lower lip may have been wobbling a bit on losing his F5E so early on.  Being only the first proper game we'd played with the rules, we got a few key points wrong - we had planes doing Special Manoeuvres at Low Altitude and making attacks while doing "Break Turn" manoeuvres, both of which are no-nos.  The consensus of the other players was that Special Manoeuvres were on the whole a waste of time, a conclusion they reached after the disasterous Paradisan second turn.  Personally I'm inclined to disagree: I think a successful manoeuvre can win you a killing shot, just as a failed manoeuvre at the wrong time can leave you stranded in someone's sights.  Jonesy favoured doing nothing but Break Turns (a relatively easy move which let you make 75 degree turns instead of 45 degree ones, without too excessive a penalty for failure) but that was before we realised that you couldn't use weapons in the phase you did a Break Turn.

Everyone agreed that the Paradisan's had brought a knife to a gun fight with their Super Tucanos.  While they may be great counter-insurgency ground attack craft, they were a positive liability in an air-combat environment.  The sooner that Paradiso takes delivery of those ex-Israeli A4 Skyhawks, the better!

We also agreed that the ex-Soviet gear seemed to have all the advantages - The Mig-21bis carries four missiles compared to the F5E's two (according to the standard load), just as the F6s carried twice as many rockets as the Tucano.  I'd tried to equip all sides with weapons dating from around the mid-80s, and in the case of the Paradisan Sidewinders I'd made them the export-model Sidewinder-Ps rather than the much more powerful domestic Sidewinder-Ms available in that era.  I'd done so deliberately because I wanted both sides to be using rear-180 aspect missiles.  I'm going to have to go back to the airplane stats and do a bit more balancing work in setting up furture scenarios.

One last thing that I found strange - during my solo games I'd used a pair of set-squares (visible in the photos in the last post) for measuring angles - the angles you most need to use are 30, 45 and 60 degrees, all represented by corners on the set-squares, while a high-mobility Break Turn can be measured by putting a 45 degree and 30 degree corner next to eachother.  For the game this Sunday I went to the trouble of printing off copies of the turning circle from the rules.
For some reason though, the players did not get along with these at all.  And we're talking a relatively clever bunch of people here.  But despite it being as simple as "High mobility planes normally turn H, if doing a Break Turn they turn HBT", the turn circles fell by the wayside to be replaced by some truly dubious "eyeballing" of turns.  Then someone hit upon the idea of using a square D6 as a sort of 45 degree turn indicator (if you line it up with the flat front of the flying base, then the corners are pointing 45 degrees)  I'm beginning to think that I might be better off picking up half a dozen cheap "back to school" geometry sets for use with this game.

Applying the Culo Raton victory (on behalf of the Farmers' Revolt) to our ongoing campaign rules, I think the capture of the fuel depot from the previous land battle will give them control of a Secure Supply of Food and Materiel.  That leaves the campaign status as follows.

Farmers - Control of the Foothills of Monto Blanko. The Bridge at El Humber. The Goodwill Of The People, Secure supply of food and materiel.
Army - Secure base of operations at Verdaville. The Airfield at Los Anillcamino. The Sunrise Corp Processing Plant
Uncontrolled - Foreign media interest. The fertile Piso River valley. Support from the Church.  

I think I'm going to fight this particular campaign thread until one side has just twice as many resources as their opponent, before having a UN enforced ceasefire reset the situation.  Now that Culo Raton has become involved I don't want things to escalate into all-out war too quickly!

Anyhoo, this post has taken far longer than I'd planned, and I've not even managed to mention the care package I received from Carl of SoloWargamingInTheUK.  More of that in a future post.

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