Monday, January 15, 2018

Smokin' Some Cubans: Scenario playtest

The Angolans and Cubans have blunted the attack on their supply depot, and now are following up, scenting blood
It was a 3-day weekend with Martin Luther King Day, so why not schedule a playtest of my Wars of Insurgency scenario for this convention year? And while I'm' at, why not make it two playtests? On Saturday, I took my 6-player hypothetical engagement between an attacking South African and UNITA group with a Cuban/Angolan rearguard force. The skirmish takes place during the Cuito 1987-88 Cuanavale campaign after the SADF/UNITA have repulsed the initial Angolan onslaught, but before the grand finale at Cuito. The South Africans have intervened on behalf of Jonas Savimbi's UNITA rebels to preserve the buffer their territory has created, protecting South West Africa from attacks by SWAPO.
The Angolan and Cuban high command in the Dayton playtest, (from left) Phil Hayes, Cuban player Tom Miller, Barry Greene, and Randy Miller
The first playtest was at the January meeting of the Central Ohio Gamers Association (COGA) at Ravenstone game store. I sat in to make it an even six players -- what the scenario was designed for. To see pictures and read captions giving an account of that battle, check out my Facebook post on the COGA page. This blog post will focus on the Dayton game. We ended up with 7 players, so I took the two Angolan militia commands of three squads each and converted them into three commands of two squads. The extra command was no real advantage, but I did reshuffle some deployment. I moved Cuban force from the right flank to the village garrison, along with one of the Angolan commands.
Cubans garrison the supply depot located in an Angolan village -- the objective of the South African raid
Both commands took up covered firing positions, manning either the fenceline or the crates and barrels that were the supplies they were guarding. These were the South African objective, hoping to either destroy these or capture them and arm UNITA with them. The fence was light cover, most of the huts and crates and supplies medium cover, and the sandbag positions guarding each entrance were heavy cover. In the COGA playtest, the sole Angolan command guarding the village got shot up badly by the South African Ratel armored personnel carriers and the light machine guns of the infantry squads. In Dayton, the firefight would take a decidedly different turn!
More Cubans take cover in the center of the village, while a goat ponders the edibility of the Cuban order marker
Although the SADF/UNITA force used the same basic plan of attack as the COGA playtest two days before, the garrison was receiving fewer casualties. Doubtless, this was partially because the Cubans are Regular class soldiers, who have better survivability than the Militia class Angolan FAPLA soldiers. In my Wars of Insurgency rules, each figure has a base number of defense dice depending on their troop quality, which is augmented by the cover they receive. 
The attackers -- (from left) South African player Greg Horner, UNITA Matt Lawsom, and SADF Jim Casey
 There are a number of approaches the attacking South Africans and UNITA troops can take, from wildly aggressive to cautious. In the COGA playtest, they were very deliberate and fairly cautious. In Dayton, they had a somewhat similar approach, though the UNITA militia pushed forward more aggressively into the open ground between the patches of bush. The SADF hugged the bush a bit more, excepting the Ratels, which stuck to the roads.
On the left, a SADF Ratel provides covering fire for the UNITA advance.
While the South Africans were advancing on the flanks, and UNITA was pushing towards the center, the two flanking Angolan commands were likewise in motion. Phil's troops, proud in their red berets were more bold, dashing across open ground. They suffered occasional losses for their aggression, but in general, did a good job using the cover to avoid fire. On the left, Randy sent one squad to bolster the village defenses (and take the sandbagged position at the gate), while the other cautiously tried to outflank the South Africans attacking on their wing.
Phil's FAPLA troops pushed forward on the Angolan right aggressively, boldly sprinting across open ground from time to time
In the center, the firefight raged. The Cubans were doing a much better job of using cover to avoid casualties from the incoming attacking fire. They even eschewed the medium cover that the defenders stuck to in the COGA playtest to line up along the light fenceline. At times, they were jockeying for position to be able to get in shots. Patches of bush obscured their view of the attackers, but they put out a hail of lead nevertheless, which began to cause casualties among the UNITA militia that advanced through the open ground.
Angolan troops line up along the village fenceline, supported by the Cubans on their right, and pour fire into the attackers
And then suddenly, the key blow of the battle was struck. A Cuban RPG gunner fired a rocket at the South African Ratel on the right. It was a long range shot, with only about a 25% chance of hitting. It struck home, though. The roll for damage maxed out, while the defense roll of the South African failed utterly. Boom! A Ratel erupted in flame -- unfortunately for the attackers -- incinerating two thirds of the infantry squad riding inside. In one blow, one of the South African commands had lost more than half of his effective fighting force. A key mechanic of the rules is that dice thrown by the attacker hit on a 4-6 on 1d6, while defensive dice to avoid the hits inflicted save on a 5-6. So, no matter how solid your defensive position, no matter how well trained the soldier taking cover, there is always a chance the target will get hit. I base this probability on well-documented modern warfare engagements, such as "Black Hawk Down," when elite U.S. rangers were struck and killed by bullets fired by Somali militiamen.
BOOM! A South African Ratel (here, a stand-in Tonka toy until my resin 20mm Ratels arrive form Europe!) erupts in flames
The Angolans cheered the blow, and were energized by the success. First a Cuban squad, then an Angolan one, clambered over the fence to close with the stunned attackers. Perhaps they sensed a slackening of pressure from the cowed UNITA militia. Or likely the disappearance of one of the feared 20mm automatic cannons of the Ratels gave them courage. I class the automatic cannon on the Ratel as a heavy machine gun in this scenario, as it is a more deadly weapon in this type of mostly-infantry engagement. The Ratel autocannon was a mutlipurpose weapon which dealt out punishment to Angolan forces of all types in the Cuito Cuanavale campaign.  In the COGA game, the Angolan/Cuban players never really had an answer to this weapons. While in Dayton, they obviously did!
An Angola squad belonging to FAPLA -- the armed wing of the communist MPLA faction, which had seized control of Angola -- clambers over the village fence to close with their attackers
To compound the South African woes, the other Ratel was having poor luck with its firing. Poor Jim rolled subpar dice when trying to chew up Phil's flanking Angolan force he was opposite. What's more, when Jim did finally have success with the dice, Phil's troops made their save rolls -- showing that they had learned under the Cubans' patient instruction. My Wars of Insurgency rules are meant to be simply and easy to learn, but intended to take full advantage of the granularity of rolling multiple d6's. They allow for things such as differentiating training of troops, but also tactics such as spreading automatic weapon fire among multiple opponent's -- spraying them, so to speak. How much to spread, who to target, whether to advance slowly and hug cover or sprint forward...all of these things are player decisions which are just as key to the outcome as their dice rolling.
Emboldened Angolan troops cross their crop fields, closing the range with the enemy
Despite the loss of the Ratel, the South Africans kept up the attack. They were well-armed and well-trained, and knew that a couple good shots could shatter a militia squad. I classed the South Africans in this scenario as Regular class rather than Professional. Some may be surprised, but many South African regular forces were composed of reservists rotating their service time through. There was even a key phase in the Cuito Cuanavale campaign when the South Africans decided to pause their follow up of the beaten Angolans to re-train a fresh group of reservists that had replaced the combat-experienced ones that had just beaten the enemy at the Lomba River, but whose service terms had now ended. An excellent source for this campaign is "The Battle of Cuito Cuanavale," from the Africa @ War series by Helion Publishing.
A South African infantry squad pushes forward on the right flank
The battle could still be won by the South Africans, especially if their infantry drove off the Angolan FAPLA troops advancing to stop their flanking attacks. I classed the FAPLA troops of the ruling MPLA coalition as Militia rather than Regular because they were mauled by the South Africans in the actual battle. Despite Cuban training and leadership, they would often through their break and run if under too devastating of firepower. However, both Phil's troops on the right and Randy's troops on the left gave almost as good as they received. This served to blunt the final chance the South Africans had at taking the village.
Randy's militia squad on the far left stop the South African flanking attack, while their Cuban officer looks on approvingly
Once it became obvious that neither Jim's nor Greg's SADF infantry or Ratel were would make any more headway, they conceded, and called off the assault. Victory went to the Angolan and Cuban rearguard force, who had saved the supply depot. This victory would raise the hopes of the beaten Angolans and Cubans, and lead to their later repulse of the South Africans at Cuito Cuanavale, itself.

I was very appreciative to Randy Miller for inviting me to Dayton to playtest my scenario. All of the guys were great sports, and it was a pleasure to sit down at a gaming table with them. They said they enjoyed the rules, and were contemplating uses for them with troops they already have. To me, that is one of my favorite comments I hear from players after one of my scenarios: "Hey, these rules would work for (fill in the blank)!" Thanks again, Randy and crew, for having me!

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