Table for One: Murmansk 1941 (Decision Games/S&T) After-Action Report

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Murmansk 1941 (Decision Games/Strategy & Tactics 194, 1999)
Scenario One: The First Attack, July, 1941 After-Action Report

Overview

The first of three scenarios in Decision Games’ Forgotten Axis: Murmansk 1941, titled The First Attack, July, 1941, covers the initial German movement by the 2nd and 3rd Mountain Divisions from their positions near Petsamo (modern-day Pechenga) towards Soviet defensive positions held by border guard units and the 14th and 52nd Rifle Divisions along the Titovka River. The scenario lasts for twenty-four turns of indeterminate length, but each turn is probably less than a day, most likely twelve hours.

Murmansk 1941, German approach to the Titovka River

Victory in the scenario depends on occupation of two key locations—Titovka and Ura Guba, each worth 10 VP each to the side to last control it—with the Soviets earning an additional 10 VP if the Germans do not manage to cross the Litsa River. The Soviets earn a further 3 VP for each German step reduced, with the Germans earning a single VP for Soviet step reductions and 2 VP for eliminating a Soviet HQ unit.

Two optional rules were used for this playthrough: Formation Effectiveness, which shows the ebb and flow of divisional effectiveness as it engages in combat (usually through die roll modifiers to combat); and Auto-Victory, granting all combats at an odds ratio of 7:1 or better with an automatic elimination of the defender’s units with no losses to the attacker. Both optional rules favor the Germans, and they were used for reasons that will soon become apparent.

Initial Thoughts

Right off the bat, the Soviets hold a 20 VP advantage by controlling the two victory locations. To make matters worse for the German player, even a twenty-four turn scenario provides hardly near enough time to reach the furthest objective, Ura Guba, which sits a full fifty-one hexes from the German start lines. Certainly it’s feasible in theory; at a top speed of twelve hexes per turn, a German bicycle battalion could get there in five turns flat. But there’s the little matter of two Soviet divisions lined up along the length of the road to contend with…

With stacking limited to two units per hex in most cases, the single road threatens to jam up far too quickly for both German divisions, so my thought was to start one German division further south to draw Soviet forces towards them, hopefully thinning out the road defenses a bit. By threatening a Litsa crossing (worth 10 VP denied to the Soviets), they might allow the other division to attack a thinner defense.

Compounding German difficulties, the Combat Results Table threatens to harm the attacker almost as much as the defender, with the attacker susceptible to mandatory step losses on the higher odds columns. Throw in the doubling of losses when as few as six full strength units (attack and defense) participate in a combat and, in conjunction with the far greater VP the Soviets gain for German step losses, it’s a hard row to hoe indeed.

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Table for One: Murmansk 1941 (Decision Games/S&T) Review

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When it comes to wargaming topics, I have a definite soft spot for the obscure and undergamed. Sure, I own a few Bulge and D-Day treatments, and more than my share of games on the Western Front of World War One, but I have a hard time passing up conflict simulations covering battles that have been mostly overlooked by the hobby. Games on these subjects often benefit from being terra incognita for designers, freeing them from worrying about how some other designer has worked out the orders of battle or the terrain problems, and frequently one sees innovative mechanics as a result.

Sometimes, though, battles go underrepresented in the gaming sphere for a reason—there’s just not a lot of game there. At first glance, such is the case for Mike Benninghof’s Forgotten Axis: Murmansk 1941, from Decision Games. The German attempt to seize the vital Soviet port of Murmansk stands as a potentially war-changing offensive; cutting off that crucial supply lifeline in 1941 would have had significant repercussions for the long war to follow. And yet, the battle itself, at least on the evidence presented in this design, offers up no such momentous cataclysm. The Germans came, the Germans couldn’t conquer, the Germans left, in life as in the game.

Overview

Forgotten Axis: Murmansk 1941
Decision Games, 1999
Strategy & Tactics 194
Designed by Mike Benninghof

Murmansk 1941, Cover Detail

Murmansk 1941 appeared as the issue game in Strategy & Tactics 194 (November/December 1998; published in 1999), with a sheet of 140 die-cut half-inch counters and a single 22″ x 34″ map on matte paper. The first in designer Mike Benninghof’s three-part Forgotten Axis series, this game covers the attempts by the German 2nd and 3rd Mountain Divisions to take the Arctic port of Murmansk, defended by the Soviet 14th and 52nd Rifle Divisions. The later games in the series cover actions in Finland and Romania.
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Table for One: NATO Air Commander (Hollandspiele) Review

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In the variety show that is wargaming, purpose-built solitaire wargames are the plate spinners—sideshow acts compared to the notional stars of the show, the multi-player, face-to-face games. It’s not that these solo games lack flair or substance; indeed, there’s virtuosity on offer, but in almost all cases, the skills and decisions required in these games differ wildly from those called upon in traditional hex and chit wargames. The entertainment in playing a purpose-built solitaire wargame, as in watching a plate spinner, derives from wondering when it will all come crashing down; failure is the expected end point, success a function of failing less badly.

It’s this heavy focus on risk abatement as the primary game decision space that has long caused me to shy away from solitaire wargames, which tend toward rather tedious, process-driven affairs. The player’s decisions revolve around a few choices that add up to little more than different die roll modifiers for the next run through the chart-heavy sequence of play. Fighting a system with the odds stacked against you frankly feels like work.

But subject matter often overcomes hesitation with wargames, and when I heard that Hollandspiele had NATO Air Commander, a solitaire World War III air game, in the works, I knew I had to check it out, even though I am, as is perhaps now obvious, averse to the process-laden solitaire genre. Getting to command wings of A-10s and Alpha Jets against echelons of Warsaw Pact forces? I’m so very there.

Overview

NATO Air Commander: Solitaire Strategic Air Command in World War III
Hollandspiele, 2018
Designed by Brad Smith

NATO Air Commander, Hollandspiele, 2018

NATO Air Commander follows what appears to be the standard Hollandspiele format, with a small-scale box (11.5″ x 9″), 22″ x 17″ matte map, a sheet of absurdly thick die-cut, double-sided 9/16″ counters, and in this case a deck of cards. Hollandspiele uses a print-on-demand process for components other than the cards, and while the saddle-stapled rulebook pages might be a bit thin, the colors on the map are crisp and the counters show no registration issues at all.
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Doctor Who Project: Planet of the Spiders

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Never mind the dratted coffee. What about the spiders?

Though much of Doctor Who‘s eleventh season feels somewhat rote, ticking off the boxes and moving the plots along, never let it be said that the production team skimps on finales. For the Third Doctor’s final story, “Planet of the Spiders” (Story Production Code ZZZ), Robert Sloman, who scripted, in whole or in part, three prior season-ending stories (“The Daemons,” “The Time Monster,” and “The Green Death“) ably assumes the writing duties. While the Doctor’s co-stars here mostly take the form of dodgy arachnoid puppets (and their human puppets), Sloman nevertheless delivers another character-driven piece, focusing on meditation, the Doctor’s greed, and the, ah, transmigration of souls.

The Wheel of Becoming. And also spiders.

The titular arachnoids have conquered the titular planet via exposure to the mind-enhancing Metebelian crystals first introduced in Sloman’s last tale. Though tempting to suggest that the spider’s planet, Metebelis 3 (mentioned as far back as “Carnival of Monsters“), and the blue crystals found there were deliberately planted as plot seeds a year prior, more likely the crystal served as a convenient hook for the story on offer here. (Indeed, the implication that the Doctor was aware of the crystals’ ability to amplify intelligence and thus chose to give one to Jo Grant as a wedding present does not bear contemplation.)

The one last perfect crystal of power

By elaborate narrative happenstance, Jo sends the crystal back from the Amazon, where she and Professor Jones are mushroom hunting, to the Doctor at the very moment that the Metebelian spiders, far in the future, have found a gateway through time and space to contemporary Earth that has been opened by power-hungry novice meditators in a Tibetan lamasery recently opened near UNIT HQ. It’s just one of those coincidences. The Great One, eldest and most powerful of the eight-legs (as they prefer to be called), requires the perfect crystal to complete a powerful crystalline web-circuit that will give her the ability to shape the universe. In his confrontation with the Great One, the Doctor must confront fear, as well as the knowledge that he has brought all of this upon the universe—and upon himself.

(Fair warning: pictures of animatronic spiders, plus a non-animatronic hovercraft, after the break.)
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Table for One: Revolt in the East (SPI/S&T) After-Action Report Part Two

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Revolt in the East (SPI/Strategy & Tactics 56, 1976)
Standard Scenario After-Action Report
Part Two: Turns Seven through Twelve

Overview

Please see Part One of the Revolt in the East AAR for a detailed breakdown of the first half of the scenario.

The Soviet Union currently holds fifteen of the twenty-one victory cities, leaving six for the Warsaw Pact/NATO side. With only a simple majority needed for victory, the WP/NATO side has quite a bit of work to do, but their faster unit replacement rate should help even the odds a bit. The map currently favors the WP/NATO side as well, with the Soviets spread out all over; if the Soviets can consolidate these disparate forces, however, they should be able to hold their current gains.

(Combat results are EX—Exchange; DE—Defender Eliminated; DR—Defender Retreat; AR—Attacker Retreat. Phases with no significant action omitted.)

Turn 7

WP/NATO Reinforcement Phase:

A well-armed West German corps re-enters after absorbing replacement troops and materiel.

WP/NATO Movement Phase:

With all Soviet troops evicted from East Germany, NATO forces may spread out as they wish. The Turks and Greeks stream into Bulgaria, in an odd reversal of the Balkan wars at the beginning of the century, and fortify Sofia and Plovdiv. The considerable mass of troops in East Germany heads south and east, hoping to secure Poland up to the Vistula and Czechoslovakia down to the Danube. Overextending could be costly, as Soviet armies destroyed the last several turns have been reconstituting themselves, albeit more slowly than their NATO counterparts.

Revolt in the East, Turn 7, NATO Breakout from East Germany

WP/NATO Combat Phase:

The rampage of the Boleslav Army comes to a close, as five NATO corps, supported by the largest air armada yet seen in this conflict, surrounds the battle-tested warriors. [25 attack strength against 3 defense strength for max 7:1 odds. Combat dr=4 for DE.] The US 7th Corps has the honor of marching into a liberated Prague.
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Doctor Who Project: The Monster of Peladon

Doctor Who Project: The Monster of Peladon
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Didn’t I tell you about my first visit to Peladon?

While monsters and villains have often made encore showings on Doctor Who, the series’ first return to a particular planet—well, one not named Earth or Skaro, at any rate—only comes in Brian Hayles’ “The Monster of Peladon” (Story Production Code YYY), reprising his “The Curse of Peladon” from Season Nine. Hayles took more than just a setting, though; he also carried over the essential plot of his earlier tale, right down to an alien scheme co-opting old Aggedor, the god-beast worshipped by the Peladonians, to acquire the feudal society’s minerals.

Behold, Aggedor!

The original story stands out mostly for Hayles’ ingenious decision to recast his fearsome Ice Warriors as upstanding, honor-bound members of the galactic Federation, causing much consternation on the part of the Third Doctor, who has all his frankly shoddy detective work undone by their sudden bout of pacifism. Here, the Martian menaces aren’t on hand to help vouch for the Doctor after he re-appears on Peladon some fifty years after his first visit. Luckily for the Doctor, who once again is accused of rank blasphemy for entering the Temple of Aggedor (using the same secret tunnels and doors from five decades prior), the lovable mono-eyed green hexapod Alpha Centauri does show up just in time to recognize his old friend.

Vega Nexos, Alpha Centauri, and Earth-y Eckersley

Along with Alpha Centauri (who hails from, um, Alpha Centauri) are the Earth engineer Eckersley and the Vegan mining specialist Vega Nexos, all overseeing the exploitation of Peladon’s precious trisilicate deposits; the mineral, used extensively in Federation technology, must be procured in great quantities to assist the Federation’s war effort against the fearsome foes of Galaxy Five (not to be confused with those from Galaxy Four). The constant, and deadly, reappearance of the “spirit” of Aggedor riles up the miners, who, no better treated now than fifty years prior, rebel against Federation influence.

Where before the young king of Peladon fought against the influence of his High Priest, who was being tricked by a Federation envoy into driving away the Federation—the better to allow the envoy’s own planet, Arcturus, to claim Peladon’s rock-bound riches—here, the young queen of Peladon fights against the influence of her Chancellor, who is being tricked by a Federation envoy into attacking the rebelling miners—the better to allow the envoy to traitorously sell the trisilicate to Galaxy Five.

But just to spice things up ever so slightly (and to fill out six long episodes), the traitor this time turns out to be…oh, you’ve probably already guessed.

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