Wednesday 30 January 2019

CanCon and Chain of Command

CanCon is the major event on the Australian gaming calendar and takes place in Canberra over the Australia Day holiday weekend at the end of January. It seems to grow larger every year and has expanded well beyond the original miniatures and board gaming wargame convention it once was. It now features everything from Cosplay to collectable card games; family board games to Warhammer 40k; Bolt Action to Gaslands.

This year I could only attend for a day and the Chain of Command event was the main attraction for me. For many years I played in the Advanced Squad Leader tournament, winning it a couple of times, so it was good to look into a room full of familiar faces and say hello. And of course it goes without saying that no visit to a major gaming event is complete without visiting the numerous traders and parting with a bit of cash.

This year's Chain of Command event had a Pacific theatre theme and as always John Bond worked his magic to produce some spectacular terrain and without doubt the best tables at CanCon. I've photographed a few of them, but my favourite was this quite marvellous piece of jungle, resplendent with temple.

What I admire about John's work is his ability to balance realism with playability. For all the dense appearance of the table it was very well thought through and never appeared to get in the way of playing the game. Having said that, he may have over succeeded in one aspect - it was easy for the figures themselves to blend in with the landscape and almost disappear.

Having made some paddy fields myself recently I was interested to see John's creations. He made up a great table of a small hamlet set amongst flooded paddy fields and it worked very well. Nothing fancy or complex in their creation John told me, simply a paint job and then a coat of gloss varnish. Simple, but brilliant.

And once again they worked very well in the context of game.

One table featuring a small airfield, complete with crashed plane, petrol bowser and large administration building.

Last but not least, a stream set amongst plantations, all looking suitably hot and atmospheric.

Dave (my regular CoC opponent for all of the CoC Pint Sized Campaigns) and I also had the chance to meet Len Tracey, the former commander of the Australian Army Jungle Fighting School and the author of the Malaya 1942 campaign that we finished playing recently (AARs start here). Len is working with Rich Clarke on the forthcoming Far East handbook for Chain of Command and gave us some very interesting insights into the research he had been doing. After our Malaya campaign and seeing these tables I have to say it has really whet my appetite for playing games in this theatre and I'm really looking forward to seeing the Far East handbook in print.

Dave, Len Tracey and myself

By the way you may be wondering what the yellow balls are that Dave and I are holding. These were given to us by Steve McGuigan, organiser of the CoC event, and they are TooFatLardies branded stress balls. Steve handed them to us with the invitation to 'squeeze the Lardies balls', not the first or the last time that joke will be made I suspect. While you come to terms with that unappealing mental picture I should just mention that Canberra laid on a blazing hot summer's day, as it can do from time to time in January. The halls at CanCon struggled to keep the heat down, but I suspect it was a losing battle. Cue your joke of choice about gamers and their personal hygiene habits, or lack thereof.

Tuesday 22 January 2019

Malaya 1942 Campaign - postscript and afterthoughts

With the Malaya 1942 campaign complete Dave and I thought it might be useful to write a postscript where we both share our thoughts on the campaign and what we've learned.

The Australian campaign overview, Dave's perspective

I have to say that the Malaya 42 campaign was, as with the other CoC campaigns I have played out with Mark, a most enjoyable gaming exercise. A great game system, lovely figures, great terrain, and a close win in a nail-biting finish – what more could one wish for?

In the end, I got blown away on the ninth game as the Japanese forced the crossing and continued the ‘rolling advance’. As per the campaign victory conditions if the campaign goes to nine or ten games the result is a (marginal) Australian win, with seven or eight games being a narrow Japanese win and the historical result. Having played it I don’t think many games would go to eleven plus for a decisive Australian win, on the other hand, I could see the Japanese blowing through against an inexperienced or inexpert defender for a decisive win in less than seven games. How so? Let’s have a look.

In retrospect the crucial factor was the counterattack following the initial Japanese repulse in Scenario 3 Fix the Enemy. Although unsuccessful tactically and resulting in a hasty withdrawal, it bought an extra campaign turn which in the end proved the difference between winning and losing. I looked on it as a limited objective counterattack being pulled back on meeting firm resistance. This in my view fitted the operational narrative nicely. Following this the Japanese launched the bloodless attack that forced me out of the main position, but again this fitted the narrative – a sudden Japanese thrust with a short sharp bombardment surprising the Aussies as they were regrouping. This is one of the strengths of the CoC campaign system – it can generate a surprisingly credible narrative beyond the tactical level on the table.

One thing I felt I did in this campaign better than previously was playing the long game, such as withdrawing quickly to avoid taking excessive losses. Obviously the aim of the campaign is to delay the Japanese, but force preservation is an important factor, particularly with one platoon. Bear in mind that the Japanese will always have a full-strength platoon on the attack. In a sense, if the engagement cannot be won, it is often better to withdraw since the campaign game turn has already been used and nothing further can be gained except casualties.

What would I do differently? Probably not much I suspect, except for support selections in some cases. The critical thing for the Australians is taking the opportunity to counterattack – every one uses up a campaign game turn and adds to the delay imposed on the Japanese, even if you skive off after a couple of phases – a benefit far greater than consolidating defences.

One aspect of the campaign that I feel was not fully thought through was the potential deployment of Australian reinforcements in the shape a green platoon (presumably made up of REMF’s). As per the campaign rules as written, this platoon can only be deployed if the regular platoon is cut off and destroyed following a defeat in scenario four. In other words, if the regular platoon is destroyed in any other scenario or simply cut up and too weak to continue, the replacement green platoon cannot be deployed. This doesn’t really make sense. If the platoon is available, deploying it should be a command (i.e. player) decision, rather than depending on a particular combination of scripted circumstances. In the end we played it this way.

The Japanese campaign overview, Mark's perspective

At first glance the Japanese seem to have most of the advantages in this campaign. They have almost unlimited access to reinforcements, which allows them to push aggressively, and support is more readily available. Their national characteristics give them some distinct advantages in this terrain and if worked together in combination can catch out an unwary Australian player.

The one thing the Japanese don't have is time. Where as the Australians must shepherd their resources carefully, the Japanese player must be prepared to take losses by pushing hard to achieve objectives. In this sense the Japanese require a little less subtlety to play, your objective is clear and it will be achieved by being aggressive. This style of play comes easier to a wargamer than that required for the Australians, who must balance the need to delay the Japanese with good judgement on deciding when it's time to withdraw. Knowing when to fight and when not to is the key. Quite a balancing act, which I think Dave managed to pull off to very good effect.

I agree with Dave's assessment that his decision to mount a counterattack after winning the first game at Map 3 was critical. It takes a single Australian scenario victory and one counterattack to put the Japanese timetable in serious jeopardy. I made the mistake of assuming Dave would not risk a counterattack, as that seemed to go against everything he was trying to achieve with a careful fighting withdrawal. What hadn't even crossed my mind was that Dave was quite prepared to 'lose' the counterattack scenario. He was playing for the campaign and the fact that the counterattack stalled the Japanese push was the 'victory' he was looking for. He left his options open for that scenario, had things gone well he could have continued fighting, but the delay was the key and once it was clear the Japanese had the upper hand he was quick to disengage. Wise move and good play.

What might I have done differently? Well, given how pivotal that first playing of Scenario 3 ended up being for the campaign, two things come to mind, one very specific and one general. The specific one was the poor decision not to form a small team and have them run down the paddy bank to close down the Australian jump-off points in the early stages of the scenario. That had an excellent chance of succeeding and could have resulted in a very different outcome. Poor tactics on my part. The second was a more general one. Perhaps I could have delayed my decision to withdraw and seen how things played out? If I was going to lose anyway then taking more casualties was not an issue, as I could replace the platoon with a fresh one. Given the consequences of losing that scenario, I should have made a more determined effort to continue. That was a case of doing the opposite to Dave and not thinking longer term.

Overall I felt the campaign was well balanced, however it does need some very careful play from the Australians. A bold and forward defence is very unlikely to work and the Australians could face defeat very quickly, so much so it could give the impression the campaign is hopelessly lopsided in favour of the Japanese. The fact that Dave made a conscious choice to lose the counterattack scenario, but did so understanding the true value of fighting that encounter in the context of an overall campaign victory, speaks volumes about the sort of thinking required.

As Dave says, it makes for a very credible and compelling narrative.

The tactical perspective - the Australian view

Winston Churchill once remarked that “Going into the jungle to fight the Japanese is like going into the water to fight a shark”. I have to say I know how he felt. The Japanese are a tough force and in the jungle with hard cover and limited lines of sight they become very tough to stop. Why so?

The Australians are a fairly ‘standard’ platoon (if there is such a thing) in CoC, with three sections of 10 men generating 12 dice plus an SMG, two SL’s and a 2” mortar with unlimited smoke (a valuable asset) plus a Boys ATR team (useful enough against the Ha-Go but not to be relied upon). Their national characteristics are the same as the British – Five Rounds Rapid and Concentrated Fire – plus the additional one of ‘Curly on the Tommy gun’, which is a passive ability (requires no activation) and will allow the odd re-roll and generate the occasional extra hit.

The Japanese are a large platoon more like the early war models, with three 14 man sections generating 15 dice each, the mortar section which generates 6 light mortar dice or 13 rifle dice at short range, the SL and the Gunso. The Gunso is treated as a JL which is a significant disadvantage in activation terms (since 3’s are always in demand) but he can still command two sections nonetheless.

Their special abilities are a mixed bag. Aggressive in close combat rarely comes into play – it’s unlikely even the Japanese will rush an unpinned Bren frontally. The +1 on the force morale dr is useful, and the -1 on all BTH rolls is good, particularly as any roll of 1 – even on a SL dying for example – becomes a 0 which is no effect. The final two are massive – Neo-Bushido allowing the first two points of shock to be ignored in combination with the large 14 man sections means the Japanese are very hard to pin or break. And Jungle Fighters – 14” move/separation for patrol markers and 9” deployment - may not look like much but allows significant patrol phase mobility and great deployment options, particularly when combined with the Ruse support.

Overall the Australians have a three point advantage (-2 rating versus +1). However it doesn’t necessarily feel that way. Because of the value of the Japanese special abilities (not included in the force rating) combined with the cheap cost of the Japanese supports (generally a point less than the Australian equivalent) the defenders are seriously outgunned, and playing the Australians needs to take account of that reality. The Japanese ‘feel’ more like a +3 squad than a +1 squad.

Tactically some things worked and some didn’t. Using one section as a blocking force doesn’t work – after a couple of phases of fire, the Australian section with 4-5 casualties and 4-5 points of shock is on the verge of pinning, while the Japanese squad with 4-5 casualties and 4-5 points of shock is still very functional. It was critical to mass firepower and hit the leading Japanese squad hard and try and shatter that squad before it could be reinforced – using two or even three Australian sections to achieve this. Unfortunately the Japanese pre-game barrage if selected can really hamper any attempt to do this. So if things look dicey, you have to be ready to withdraw tactically. The other thing that worked well (on more than one occasion) was using mortars to break up the attack (which they did historically). I never selected the two pounder AT gun as a support – given the unpredictability of the Japanese selecting tanks and the certain value of the other 4 point options (FO, squad and Vickers) I chose to just grit my teeth and hope no Ha-Go’s appeared.

The tactical perspective - the Japanese view

The biggest fear I had as the Japanese was being caught under a mortar barrage. Nothing was more effective at bringing the platoon to a standstill. As a consequence manoeuvre is a key to Japanese success. Fortunately they have some advantages in this area.

This starts right at the patrol phase. As Dave mentions, the Jungle Fighters characteristic allows 14" move/separation for the patrol markers. It's surprising how much difference this makes and allows the Japanese to achieve both width and penetration in this phase. The result is jump-off points spread across the table, providing deployment options that help to counter the restrictions created by a barrage and keep the defender from concentrating for fear of not being able to cover all flanks.

This has further benefits when you consider the support option for a Ruse (two point support that allows one JoP to be moved 18" as long as it's not within 12" of an enemy unit or JoP). While this is an early war support that is unlikely to be available as the war progresses when combined with an aggressive patrol phase it enables the Japanese to spring quite a surprise. There were few scenarios where I didn't use one and they were very advantageous, so much so in fact that we wondered whether it was too powerful or should be limited in some way (limited uses per campaign, or higher support cost).

When you add a pre-game barrage to the advantages in the patrol phase and the Ruse, you have a powerful combination that can have astounding results as we witnessed in the playing of the second Japanese attack on Map 3, where the Australians could deploy only a single leader before the Japanese had overrun all of their jump-off points.

The four squad platoon is a bit unwieldy, especially with the limitations of a single senior leader. I found using historical Japanese tactics most effective, whereby the grenade discharger squad and a rifle squad worked together to form a base of fire. Normally I assigned the Gunso (a junior leader who can use his two CI as if a senior leader) to command these. Their presence was enough that it required an Australian response, which would enable the Japanese to pin down at least one if not more Australian sections. This then freed up the remaining two rifle squads and the Rikugun to work together from one flank or attempt a pincer movement, often in combination with a sudden and surprise move of a JoP using a Ruse. This is important, as the Australians can generate a lot of firepower once they can concentrate as a platoon, for this will allow them to exploit fully their two senior leaders; their national characteristics like Five Rounds Rapid, and, bring their SMGs to bear. A threat to one or both of their flanks will force them to disperse, which should work to Japanese advantage.

We saw very little close combat, generally the Japanese achieved their victories through fire and movement, with the threat of close combat enough to force the Australians out of a position. Close combat would inevitably take a high toll in casualties, one thing the Australians must work hard to avoid and so the threat alone was often enough for them to withdraw. On the other hand, while you don't want to be reckless with the Japanese, casualties were less of a concern, other than impacting the Men's Opinion.

The grenade discharger squad are a very versatile addition to the platoon. The grenade dischargers themselves will fire together using 6 dice, hitting on a 4, 5 or 6 (with direct line of sight) and reducing cover by one level. In other words they pack the equivalent HE punch of the 75mm gun on a Sherman. They have only one smoke round each, but that allows them to lay down a very effective smoke barrage 9" wide and 3" deep once per game. Finally, you have twelve men and a corporal who can always resort to their rifles if need be and provide a full squad for fire and movement purposes.

Japanese armour had little advantage given the close nature of the terrain and despite the temptation (who doesn't want a tank on the table?) I could rarely see the value they could bring. Not only that, the Australian platoon Boys anti-tank rifle is sufficient to inflict serious damage. Other than my attempt to use a platoon of Ha Go tanks to rush the village at the first playing of Scenario 6 Securing the Crossing, I felt they were too confined by the terrain to be of much value in this particular campaign.

The theatre specific aspects

The theatre specific rules seemed to work pretty well and reflected the realities of the terrain well enough in our limited experience. The variable line of sight (rolling a d6 to determine the LOS) might seem significant, but it only really played any notable role in one scenario. One thing that seemed a bit zealous and that was house ruled was the ‘getting lost on a 1 in 6 chance when moving’. This seemed inappropriate given the scale of the game. We house ruled that a unit was only subject to getting lost if it could not see another unit, or a terrain feature e.g. a hut or a road, clearing etc. In effect a unit only had to take the lost roll if it was isolated in the jungle. Given that firing and yelling would be occurring within 50-100 yards it seemed a bit extreme for units to be continually getting lost.

As has been mentioned already the Ruse was one feature which proved devastating in its effectiveness. In the dense terrain of the jungle this was most notable, especially when combined with a double phase. How so?

Simple. As usual the patrol markers will lock when 12” apart. The JoP markers, in dense terrain, will generally start 24” apart, perhaps slightly more. The Ruse allows the Japanese JoP to be relocated forward to 12” from an Australian JoP (or unit). The Japanese immediately use the ‘Jungle Fighter’ characteristic to deploy 9” from their recently moved JoP, potentially shutting down one or more Australian JoP’s immediately. In combination with a double phase the Japanese can use the Ruse, deploy and then with a good movement roll move forward up to 12” providing the ability to shut down a defending JoP located up to 43” away (move JoP 18" + deploy 9" + move 12" to point 4" from enemy JoP)! I think this amply illustrates the magnitude of the issue. When combined with a preliminary bombardment that successfully hinders deployment, it is almost impossible to combat.

This would be one item we would suggest requires a house rule or some sort of revision. While it's a very creative and historically appropriate support the full implications of what can happen in play may not have been apparent when it was created. Nor the impact its repeated use can have across several scenarios. We tended to be of the view that the Ruse should either cost more (perhaps three or four support) or more realistically be limited to one or two uses. This would reflect the defenders ‘wising up’ to the use of the Ruse and would encourage the Japanese to use it as part of a plan for a particular engagement rather than selecting it as a standard option to hyperspace forward.

A final word - Dave and the personal connection with Malaya

As a final note this campaign has a personal connection for me. My maternal grandmother Dulcimer (Dulcie to her friends and family) was in Malaya when the Japanese invaded. Why wasn’t she with my grandfather, mother and aunt? Well let’s just say that in middle-class Adelaide in the 1930’s there was a bit of a family scandal and leave it at that. My aunt said that the family were writing to her in 1940 and ’41 asking her to come back to Australia as it was obvious war was coming, but she was obviously determined to stand by her (new) man and stayed put.

Anyway when the invasion came she was unable to escape and was interned by the Japanese. In 1943 she was reportedly murdered by a member of the kempatai. He was tried after the war but acquitted, for lack of evidence I believe.

So I like to think that in this alternate future we created on the wargames table – our ‘synthetic experimental evaluation’ as Philip Sabin would say – with the Japanese advance slowed down behind its historical pace by the defiant Australian resistance, maybe Dulcie was able to escape the Japanese onrush, perhaps even reaching Singapore and being evacuated on one of the Qantas Empire flying boats that were desperately evacuating civilians from the SW Pacific theatre of war. Or catching the last boat out. Who knows?

Sunday 13 January 2019

Malaya 1942 Map 6 Securing the Crossing (round two)

The Japanese have successfully pushed the Australians back to the final map in the campaign and yet, with victory so close, they were to find themselves repulsed at their first attempt to take it in the previous game. With that went their chance of a campaign victory. If the Australians can hold the Japanese off for another two games this will award them a major victory and put a significant delay on the drive towards Singapore.

To make matters worse the Japanese found themselves driven back by a scratch platoon of rear echelon men, who nonetheless put up a very determined fight. The initial assault down the main road was led by a platoon of Ha Go tanks and while they found the going good, the infantry struggled to cross the exposed open ground into the village and suffered heavily.

For the next scenario I have the choice to attack down the road again or try an alternative approach into the village. I have opted to choose the latter. The terrain means I will be without armour support but benefit from a more covered avenue of attack for my infantry.

The new map will see the Japanese emerge from the jungle and traverse the agricultural land outside the village. This offers more cover and the opportunity to try to secure the protection of the paddy field banks as a base for the attack. Here the village huts are divided by a rubber plantation and a patch of wild bamboo and the terrain offers more covered approaches. While the surrounding jungle won't allow me to bring any armour to the battle I feel more confident that I can fight my way into the village via this route.

The Japanese start with a strong force morale of eleven, while the green Australian platoon will be at eight. My plan is to push aggressively as usual. Time is of the essence, as I fully expect the Australians to be calling on a mortar barrage. That means I need to try to close the distance as fast as possible and get in close with the Australian sections. For the patrol phase I will aim to try and locate my jump off points as close to the paddy fields near the village as I can.

The Japanese roll for two free moves at the start of the patrol phase, which goes well, and I am able to place my jump off points very close to where I had hoped. I spread them across the table to ensure I have options to push from either flank. The Australians on the other hand opt for a slightly rearward defence and concentrate around the objective point.

The support roll is eight. The Japanese have an additional two points thanks to the CO's opinion and that takes them up to ten. This gives the Australians four, to which they can add seven for the difference in force rating, taking them to eleven.

For Japanese support I select a pre-game barrage to try to hinder and slow Australian deployment. Thinking along similar lines I select a Ruse. If I can bring a jump off point that much closer in a surprise move I may be able to get units almost on top of the Australians before they have time to call in a barrage. While these first two supports will hopefully slow the Australians and speed my advance, I add a 70mm infantry gun and a flamethrower team to provide the additional firepower I might need to dislodge any determined resistance.

With that done we start the game. The first Japanese squad deploys on their right flank and takes up overwatch positions in one of the paddy fields.

Meanwhile, over on their left flank, the Japanese deploy the grenade discharger squad, who also take advantage of the cover offered by the paddy field bank.

The Australian opening phase provides three CoC points, but not many activation options. Their one attempt to deploy is stymied by the pregame barrage and so no Australians appear in the village.

The Japanese then roll a double phase and while this would normally be an absolute gift for the attacker given such an empty table, the roll of 66544 is less than ideal. There is no point in deploying the Rikugun now, as it would only make any future deployment more risky.

The subsequent roll in the next phase opens up many more possibilities with a 64333. This strikes me as a very timely opportunity to work to my plan and press forward hard, setting an aggressive pace. The pregame barrage has done its work and I need to try to close in before the Australians can deploy in numbers. I decide this is the moment to use the Ruse. 

I select the JoP on my right flank where it can move the full 18" without coming within 12" of an Australian JoP or unit.

This brings the Japanese jump off point very close to two of the Australian jump off points, including the victory objective for the scenario.

From that point I deploy a squad the maximum 9" permitted for the Japanese and place them on overwatch, and as they are now within 4" of the nearest Australian jump off point they close it down.

A second Japanese squad deploys to the left of the first squad and on the edge of the village huts. They also take up overwatch positions.

This now puts two Japanese squads in very close proximity to the objective point and we have yet to see an Australian in the village.

The squads are joined by the Gunso, who deploys into the banana grove within command range of both units. He will ensure I have a good range of command options to cover what may unfold, as I have no doubt that the Australians will want to make an aggressive response to this threat.

The Australian command roll of 65222 sets up the option to bring in a number of sections to deal with the Japanese. In previous games Dave has tried to deploy in force and preferably within range of his Thompson SMGs and from there to dish out as much firepower as possible. It has been a very effective tactic and this command roll gives him the potential to do this. There is however the matter of the pre-game barrage and this causes him considerable difficulties. The first two attempts to deploy are unsuccessful and so much now hangs on the attempt by his third section. To Dave's relief they make it through and deploy into the jungle by the objective point. They immediately open fire at the nearest Japanese squad.

The Japanese are caught in the open and the fire is devastatingly effective. The squad takes five casualties, including the Corporal who is left stunned. Japanese force morale remains unchanged, but that was quite a blow for the squad. Despite this setback they were on overwatch and so return the fire. Unlike the Australians though, this is totally ineffective.

In the following Japanese phase the squad moves tactically towards the protection of the hut, but only manages to move 1", nonetheless it puts the majority of the unit in better cover. The squad will need this if the Australians are to repeat that last round of fire, otherwise they won't be around for much longer.

The Japanese need to deal with the Australians in the jungle and so deploy the 70mm infantry gun on the right flank in the banana grove. Unfortunately the first round is totally ineffective, failing to score a single hit.

The flamethrower team was selected as a means of breaking the deadlock should I come across a particularly stubborn Australian defence. This may be premature, but I want to keep up the momentum of my advance and now seems a good as time as any. It deploys right into the front line to engage the Australian section.

While it only inflicts a single casualty on the rifle team, the experience is alarming and both Australian teams suffer four points of shock.

With the entire Japanese platoon and all the supports engaged, the Rikugun is free to deploy and joins the units on the right flank. His first command is to order the squad in the paddy field to advance into the banana grove.

This puts the weight of the Japanese attack heavily on their right. There is an element of risk in doing this, as a mortar barrage could quite easily close down this whole flank. However, there is no sign of a forward observer just yet and with any luck the pre-game barrage may hamper any attempt by him to deploy. For now I will have to take the risk.

In the next Australian phase, just as I feared, a forward observer team tries to deploy, but once again the pre-game barrage hinders Australian plans. However the platoon sergeant has less trouble and joins the section on the edge of the jungle. He immediately rallies off some of the shock inflicted by the flamethrower attack and with that done he orders the section to return fire.

At this moment we realise the Australians can concentrate all their fire on the flamethrower team as the attached squad is in better cover. This means the three man team, caught in open ground, is in real danger, and so it proves. All three men are killed and the team is wiped out, which knocks Japanese morale down two points to nine. A very satisfying result for the Australians and it takes the number of Japanese casualties so far to eight, for the loss of only a single Australian. The Japanese might be making a lot of ground, but they are taking significantly more losses than the Australians. Things were looking very good for the Japanese for a while there and this has been quite a setback.

The Japanese attack may have been temporarily stalled, but we still outnumber the Australians and are very close to a number of their jump off points. In the following Japanese phase the 70mm gun fires into the jungle, but once again the fire has no effect. So far the gun has been disappointing and failed to provide the additional support for which it was intended.

No matter, I need to seize the initiative back and so the Gunso orders one of the squads to advance into the rubber plantation towards the two Australian JoPs in that vicinity. They move quickly and manage to come close enough to shut both of these down. This will restrict future Australian deployment to a single jump off point.

Meanwhile the Japanese squad that has taken all the casualties returns fire at the Australians in the jungle, but only manages to inflict a couple of points of shock.

The Rikugun orders the rearmost Japanese squad to move up to the huts, which they do at a brisk pace and he then moves forward himself to be within command range of the two squads and the infantry gun.

The Japanese are still in a strong position. The most advanced squad has closed down the Australian JoPs in the rubber plantation and the bamboo, while a full squad has filled their place at the huts and is able to support the weakened squad facing the Australians.

On the left flank the grenade discharger squad joins the general advance and moves across the paddy field.

The Australians are now tied to a single jump off point with many of their units still to deploy. While the Japanese have taken some losses they can advance on both flanks and put a lot of pressure on the objective point.

Australian JoPs in red are closed down 

While the Australians may be restricted to the objective jump off point, that is the one spot they are currently defending and enjoying the hard cover provided by the jungle. I've no doubt they will prove tough to dislodge.

The next Australian phase sees them acquire enough CoC points for a full CoC die. While that is always useful, at this moment having units deploy is probably their most pressing need. The forward observer fails to make his way through the pregame barrage, as does a sniper. To Dave's obvious relief another section is able to deploy, however the 4" deployment restriction of the green platoon and the single jump off point severely restricts their options. They manage to find some cover in the bamboo and open fire on the squads around the village huts.

Yet another man is lost from the weakened Japanese squad and they take more shock.

In the Japanese phase the Rikugun orders the 70mm gun to continue firing into the jungle, but once again the fire is ineffective. 

He then orders the two squads at the huts to open fire on the newly deployed Australians in the bamboo. Despite taking fifteen hits they lose one casualty and suffer two points of shock. They may be a green platoon, but once again the Australians are proving to be a tough bunch. Meanwhile on the Japanese left the grenade discharger squad continues to press forward towards the bamboo.

The Australians in the bamboo need to be careful they are not attacked from the rear by the Japanese in the rubber plantation. It's not possible for the Japanese to do it in a single move and so the Japanese wheel around to face the bamboo. In so doing they capture one of the Australian jump off points (this won't be lost until the turn ends, so there is no roll for force morale at this point in time).

The Japanese squad is now well positioned to advance into the bamboo and attack the Australians from the rear. In so doing they will also capture yet another jump off point.

At the start of the next Australian phase Dave uses his CoC die to end the turn. That sees the end of the Japanese pregame barrage and will free up his deployment. The pregame barrage has been very useful and I am sad to see it go, but on the positive side I do see the stunned squad corporal get back to his feet, where he is much needed.

The turn end also means the removal of the recently captured jump off point and that sees Australian morale drop down to seven.

It is clear the Australians in the bamboo are in some danger and so the corporal removes a point of shock before ordering the section to fall back slowly while firing at half effect at the squads around the huts. The full strength squad takes a point of shock while the weakened squad loses yet another man.

That movement has the Australians lined along the edge of the bamboo, but most importantly, facing the Japanese squad that was approaching them from the rear.

With the pregame barrage out of the way the Australian FO makes his inevitable appearance. Have the Japanese closed in enough to make the barrage too difficult to bring down? We will have to see.

Meanwhile on the edge of the jungle the platoon sergeant rallies off some of the shock and then orders the section to continue firing into the huts. Both Japanese squads take one casualty and one point of shock. The Australians are slowly but surely chipping away at Japanese strength and they have been effective at bringing the advance on the Japanese right flank to a complete standstill.

The Japanese misery continues when a Vickers MMG team deploys into the open ground between the bamboo and the jungle and opens fire at the squads in the village huts.

The Japanese see another three men hit and this includes the Gunso, who is wounded and stunned. This is a blow to Japanese morale which falls two points down to seven.

Just at the moment I need all my Japanese to return fire my command roll is 65551. As always, CoC points are useful, but right now I could do with activations. The 70mm gun changes targets to the Vickers team and this time the fire is much more effective, killing two of the crew.

Dave senses this could be a moment for him and casually jokes ‘this roll could decide the game’. I then watch on in horror as he rolls a double phase (66441). He may well be right!

With the luxury of a double phase the platoon sergeant orders the FO to put down a ranging shot. In previous games, with pressure on the Australians, he has often risked calling down the barrage without first trying to correct it on to the target. While that risk has paid off for him in the past, in this instance our units are so close together there is a very real chance that if it is off target it could come down on top of him. The double phase has meant he can avoid that and is it transpires the ranging shot is only slightly off target.

The current position of the ranging shot would put the full barrage quite close to the Australians, but not close enough for my liking.

The sergeant then orders the Vickers team and the section to fire.

The larger Japanese squad loses a man and the weakened squad takes three points of shock. Only the presence of the Gunso saves them from pinning.

In the following phase the Australians finally deploy their sniper. He has a golden opportunity to try to take out the Rikugun who is isolated in the banana grove.

There is a tense moment when the sniper scores a hit on the Rikugun, but a roll of 1 on the hit table sees him escape unscathed. That was lucky.

Sensing the Australians in the bamboo are in danger of coming under the mortar barrage the sergeant orders them to fall back to join the Vickers team.

The Vickers team then fire at the Japanese at the huts.

It only results in one point of shock on each squad, but that's enough to pin the weakened squad.

Then, as the last act of the phase, it's no surprise to see the FO call down the mortar barrage. This does not bode well for the Japanese attack as nearly all of the squads will be trapped under the barrage. It looks like my risk hasn't paid off.

The larger squad at the huts takes two casualties and the squad in the rubber plantation loses a man and suffers a point of shock. The barrage has fallen perilously close to the Australians in the jungle, but they are just out of harm's way. Danger close.

This looks like the Japanese assault has been stopped in its tracks. The only glimmer of hope comes with the next Japanese command roll where a roll of 5 provides a critical CoC point that gives them a full CoC die. The Australians don't have a CoC die and so I have a chance to end the turn and see the barrage lift prematurely. I spend the remainder of the phase having the leaders rally off what shock they can so that the pinned squad will be able to rally at turn end.

With that done the turn ends and so does the barrage. The Gunso gets to his feet and the squad is no longer pinned.

While the barrage can't be activated all the Japanese are still obscured by smoke, so no firing will be possible for the next phase while there are no lines of sight. The critical thing will be for the forward observer to see if he can request another fire mission from the battery, an awful lot will hinge on the outcome. To my great relief the request is unsuccessful and the FO learns that the battery is no longer available to provide any further support. That comes as a real blow to the Australians.

The platoon 2” mortar deploys in the jungle and fires smoke at the 70mm gun, but the round drops short.

A third Australian section now deploys. However this is not quite as straightforward as it might seem, as the green troops have a short 4" deployment range and must do so from the single remaining jump off point. This puts all the Australians in a very confined area, if only I had a mortar barrage to call upon! Nonetheless, they are there, and they are all defending the objective point.

The end of the phase sees all the smoke from the barrage removed and we return to business as usual.

At the start of the Japanese phase the corporal from the weakened squad rallies off more shock.

They could be facing a lot more Australian fire and so need to get themselves into some sort of shape for the coming firefight.

The Rikugun orders the 70mm infantry gun to continue firing at the Vickers team and attached sections and the end result is that one of the Bren team is killed.

The Rikugun then orders the weakened squad to fire at the same groups of Australians. The fire is effective and the Vickers crew lose another member, as does the section's Bren team. Casualties are slowly accumulating for the Australians.

Having issued his orders the Rikugun then moves off towards the squad by the hut, as he does so one of the Australian sections on overwatch opens fire, but the Rikugun manages to come away unscathed.

Meanwhile the Gunso rallies a point of shock off the larger of the two Japanese sections and then orders them to fire at the Australians in the open.

This time the Australians take three casualties, including the section corporal who is wounded and stunned. Australian morale falls to six.

While the Australians seem to have blunted the Japanese advance and have kept the two squads in the  village huts from making any progress, events have degenerated into a protracted firefight that has caused casualties on both sides. At this rate it can't continue for too much longer before one side gives way. I need to make the most of my two squads on the Japanese left and manoeuvre them into the firefight. With some Australian units out in the open and green, there are potentially some good targets if I can only bring down enough fire to bear.

I push the squad in the rubber plantation into the bamboo. They are still out of line of sight, but they overrun another of the Australian jump off points as they advance.

The grenade discharger squad also push forward, working their way around the patch of bamboo.

The Australians elect to continue the firefight in their phase. The section in the jungle fires into the huts, but only manages to inflict a single point of shock.

While the 70mm gun hasn't caused a lot of damage it still represents quite a threat and so the platoon 2” mortar fires a round of smoke that manages to land on target and blind the gun crew.

The platoon lieutenant deploys and orders the nearest section to work its way through the jungle to join the other section at the tree line.

They manage to do that quickly and immediately present a tough firing line along the edge of the jungle. Despite being green they are now in hard cover and between the two sections they can generate a lot of firepower.

The Vickers team move back into the cover of the jungle and the section in the open falls back, moving tactically.

 In the Japanese phase the Rikugun tries to generate some action to break the deadlock. He rallies off a point of shock and orders the nearest squad to fire at the Australians in the open. However before they can fire Dave uses a CoC die to interrupt and the 2" mortar fires off a round of smoke.

The round lands right on target and the Japanese are unable to see their target.

Finally I decide the Rikugun would be better placed directing the squad in the bamboo and so he heads off in that direction, but makes slow progress. While he does that the 70mm gun team wheel their weapon to their left and try to find a line of sight not blocked by smoke.

The Australian sniper is determined to try to kill the Rikugun and he fires in his direction once again and while it misses the platoon leader is does inflict shock on the attached squad.

The 2” mortar continues to track the 70mm gun and manages to screen it off with another well placed smoke round. Meanwhile the corporal in one of the sections in the jungle transfers one of the riflemen to the bren team and then orders the whole section to fire, but it has no effect.

The lieutenant can anticipate the arrival of the Japanese on the edge of the bamboo and so puts the Vickers team on overwatch. He then takes a point of shock off the nearest section and orders it to fire, but it has no effect.

The Japanese now roll a double phase and with it an opportunity to shift the emphasis of the attack that will try to break the deadlock. The Rikugun finally manages to move quickly through the plantation and up to the bamboo from where he can command both the grenade discharger squad and the rifle squad.

He barks an order to the squad in the bamboo and they make their way to edge of the bamboo patch from where they can see the Australians.

As they arrive at the edge of the bamboo the Vickers, which is on overwatch, opens fire and immediately hits two of the squad and inflicts a point of shock.

The Rikugun continues to ramp up the pressure when he orders the grenade discharger squad to work their way forward around the left of the bamboo from where they can see the Australian section in the open.

The command roll of 55531 for the next Japanese phase is not the best, but it is enough to activate the Rikugun. He orders the grenade dischargers to use their rifles and join the squad in the bamboo firing at the Australians caught in the open. The Australians are in a bad spot and things only get much worse. The Bren team suffers six points of shock, while the rifle team has a man killed and accumulates another three points of shock. With total shock of thirteen points across both teams, this is enough to pin the section and bring them very close to breaking.

In the Australian phase the sniper takes a shot at the squad accompanying the Gunso, he misses the Gunso, but causes two points of shock, which is enough to pin the squad.

Both the lieutenant and sergeant spend the phase trying to reduce shock on the Australian units and then order the Vickers to fire into the bamboo. The Japanese squad corporal is the only man hit, but this kills him and inflicts two points of shock on the squad. That's quite a blow to Japanese morale which drops two points to five.

Both Australian sections at the jungle tree line open fire at the huts. With one squad pinned and in light cover, all the fire can be targeted at the more exposed, larger squad. A lot of fire comes their way, hitting three men and adding four points of shock, enough to pin them.

For several phases the Australians have brought the Japanese right flank to a complete standstill and inflicted many casualties along the way. With Japanese morale at five things could go down hill quickly if any of these squads break or are wiped out.

On the opposite flank the 2” mortar tries to provide some protection for the section in the open by firing smoke towards the grenade discharger squad, but it drifts harmlessly into some crops.

The game takes a dramatic turn with another Japanese double phase. This should be an opportunity to eliminate the Australians in the open and turn attention to the remainder in the jungle. The Rikugun's first commands are to have the two squads on the Japanese left open fire at the section in the open.

With green troops caught in the open there are nineteen hits. That sees the entire rifle team lost as casualties and wiped out. The stunned corporal takes a second wound, this times he is lightly wounded. The Bren team accumulates enough shock to break and routs off the table, and by doing so they take the attached wounded corporal with them. Altogether that's a lot of rolls on the FM table and sees Australian morale dive from six down to one. As we are playing for the campaign, Dave tells me he's fighting this one out to the bitter end and he has no desire to throw in the towel no matter how grim things may appear. After all, Japanese morale is not so great itself and a swing of fortune could change things quickly.

On the Japanese right the Gunso spends the phase rallying off some of the shock. While the 70mm crew exhaust themselves moving the gun yet again, trying to find a line of sight away from the smoke.

In the following Japanese phase the Rikugun rallies off shock from the squad in the bamboo and orders them to fire at the Vickers crew.

With so many Australians grouped in a small area the shots hit some of the other teams, killing another one of the Bren team and inflicting shock on the 2" mortar.

The grenade discharger squad needs to move in order to have a line of sight to the jungle, but I don't want to leave them exposed in open ground and so they move into the field of crops, but the move is slow and leaves them behind the smoke (no pictures I'm afraid).

On the other flank the squad corporal spends the phase rallying shock off the squad.

With only two command dice to roll the next Australian command phase sees two 6s. Not the time for a double phase, but at least the chance to roll again.

The next roll is little better, with a 6 and a 1. The sniper takes another shot at the squad with the Gunso. The Gunso isn't hit, but a crew member from the LMG team is killed. That squad has now lost ten men.

The following Japanese phase sees the 70mm gun return to targeting the Australians in the jungle, but as has happened so often, the fire has no effect. At the same time the corporals with the squads by the huts continue to try to bring down the shock on their respective squads.

On the opposite flank the grenade discharger squad moves through the crops until it has a good line of sight across the open ground to the jungle.

In the bamboo the Rikugun rallies off some shock and orders the squad to fire into the jungle. The Australians take a casualty in one of the rifle teams.

The next Australian phase is enough to activate one of the Australian sections who pour fire into the bamboo. Only one man is hit, but it's the Rikugun who is wounded and stunned causing Japanese morale to drop down to four. In addition the squad takes six points of shock. The Australians may be on the back foot but they are still dishing out some punishment and this game is coming down to the wire.

That said, it seems to be the Japanese day, as they roll another double phase, despite the fact they are now down to four command dice. The roll of 6652 means that only the grenade discharger squad is activated and they all fire HE rounds into the jungle. The fire is not particularly effective, but it does result in additional shock on the Australians.

The next Japanese phase offers a lot more options. The 70mm gun continues to fire optimistically into the jungle and this time is rewarded with a casualty in one of the Bren teams.

Once again the grenade discharger squad fire HE into the jungle. This time every single round hits their target.

The final crew member of the Vickers team is killed, leaving the gun manned solely by the junior leader. More significantly one of the 2" mortar crew is killed and a further point of shock breaks the surviving team member. That's enough to take the final point off Australian morale and bring it down to zero, handing the Japanese a scenario victory.

Well, that came very close and was a hard fought victory for the Japanese. The Australians bring credit to themselves once again for a very determined defence.

The victory doesn't change the overall outcome of the campaign, which is a minor Australian victory and an historical one. For a more significant victory the Australians needed to win not only this game but also the following one. Given the casualty rates experienced today that would have left the Australian platoon in pretty bad shape to face what would have been a fresh Japanese platoon had we gone to another game.

Casualties were very high all round, with the Japanese losing twenty men from the platoon plus three men from the flamethrower support team. The Australians took twenty casualties from their platoon as well. Quite a bloody ending to this campaign, but one well fought by the Australians who had to carefully harbour their resources across nine scenarios. I think we were both surprised at the excellent fight put up by the Australian rear echelon men, who repulsed the Japanese in their first encounter and gave them a very bloody nose in this, their last encounter.

A fitting end to another excellent pint sized campaign. Credit to Len Tracey for writing the campaign, it certainly delivered a great gaming experience. This was our first time playing with the Japanese and in the Far East theatre and so we've written a postscript and some afterthoughts as we reflect upon what we've learned.  

If you've found this post useful and would like to Buy Me a Coffee to help cover some of the costs of running the blog you can click through at the link or on the tab in the right hand column of this page.

You can read all the AARs for Malaya 1942 and other pint sized campaign on the Campaign AARs page.