Leros: Endgame

When we last left off, the British were pressing the attack home on Leros, when the German reinforcements landed.

The prospects for this attack were looking increasingly grim, but the Brits kept trying, which ultimately ended up savaging both involved battalions, putting the British below the threshold for possible surrender. Facing down a couple of days of pounding at the hands of the Luftwaffe, the British conceded. You know, I was going to chide Milton a bit for pressing home the attack well past any rational point – but every game of TCS or CWB I’ve played has ended up coming down to this, one player pushing an attack they see as critical well past any sane limits, creating a situation where the game will be decided one way or the other right then and there even if the odds are bad, and the player would be better off breaking off and regrouping. I think players just can’t face down the prospect of doing it all again, regrouping, reorganizing, writing up more Ops sheets, rolling more dice …

Which leads us to my final appraisal on TCS, which I have been holding out to pass until we had finished. I think TCS is an interesting system, but one that is critically flawed in a number of ways. The most important one is that it is just way too slow. Some of these game reports I’ve written, I have a hard time coming up with anything interesting that happened during that session. Combat is tedious, with multiple die rolls on multiple charts to come up with a step loss and an often totally irrelevant suppressed result. Due to the fact that Assault combat is suicidal and you can’t evict a unit from a position without killing off every last man in the platoon due to the lack of any sensible morale rules, interesting and/or decisive results essentially never occur; you spend way too much time resolving fire that has little effect. The order system only works when players are utterly scrupulous about not trying to push it. And don’t get me started on the LOS or SYR retreat-route rules (“we can’t write a reasonable rule, so, like, just do something sensible please!”).

But the critical element is the time commitment. You know, I love OCS, which takes just as long to play, but it’s interesting because every turn you’ve got stuff happening, combat can be deadly, and the situation is fluid. You move from opportunity to crisis with surprising rapidity. TCS, though … I think I’ve mentioned this before, but the old saying is that combat is hours of tedium followed by minutes of terror. In TCS, you game out both at equal fidelity, not a thrilling proposition.

So I won’t be playing Leros again, not when I could be playing OCS or Barbarossa or ASL or GCACW. The time commitment is just way too high for too little action. I actually hold out some hope that some other more mobile, higher-firepower, more open titles might be better, maybe Screaming Eagles, GD ’40, A Raging Storm … but I am not hugely optimistic. Several of my TCS titles are now on the eBay pile (Black Wednesday, A Frozen Hell, Semper Fi!) and will hopefully go out this weekend. An interesting concept and a reasonable attempt, but I have much better uses for my gaming time than this.

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Leros

When we last played, the German’s hopes had been saved by the fact that one British battalion had turned left instead of right. Today, that errant battalion accepted some new orders, to join in on the attack on Leros.

This resulted in basically the entire orders of battle on both sides blasting each other at close range. Both sides took a serious beating, as the Luftwaffe field units on the south side of Leros had their front line turned, and several hexes were rolled up by brutal crossfire. On the other hand, a couple 88s on the frontline and the newly-arrived artillery battalions also started dishing out some brutal fire, which combined to chew up the attackers pretty well. On the northern flank, the British attack was compromised by parts of a reinforcing German battalion actually landing behind them, resulting in a very confused melee with no clear result yet.

By the end of the session, with morning (and the intervention of the Luftwaffe) just a few turns away, the southern assaulting battalion had been chewed up and stalled, although not without loss to the defenders also (including one of the 88s).

We discovered one rule we had been misplaying last time. The basic rule is, illuminating rounds don’t scatter. The specific game rule is, Illuminating rounds do scatter. Sigh. Not a huge difference I think as we would have plastered everything with IR regardless, but it does make a difference (the no-scatter IR in the series rules is pretty dumb anyway). We also realized that we can user our plentiful mortars to drop IRs too, so basically both sides have access to as much IR as they realistically want, which lead to the night turns being little different from the day turns, just a one shift left on most fire and a one shift right on most morale checks.

We thought that the once the Germans landed their heavy equipment the British might be doomed, but we decided there was still enough game left in there to keep playing, at least another session or two. The Brits are in a hurting way, but it’s by no means a done deal.

Leros

If you recall, after last session the Germans were in real trouble. They were backed in to the city of Leros, which is out on a broad peninsula. The infantry arm had suffered heavy casualties. We had no heavy weapons. The Fallschrimjäger troops in Portolago has been driven off with heavy casualties. And two fresh British battalions were poised on the outskirts of Leros, ready to launch their attacks, and interdict the critical pier.

Things were not as they seemed, however. The critical problem from the British point of view was that the fresh battalion south of Leros had as its objective not Leros or the pier, but Portolago to the west – the op sheet had been written up hours ago when the situation was less clear. So rather than being able to make a quick right turn and terminally stall the German operation, they instead pressed on to the now-irrelevant city of Portolago that the Fallschrimjägers had already abandoned.

Which allowed the German reinforcements, including some light armor, the heavy artillery, heavy mortars, elements of several infantry battalions, and some heavy flak guns to pour into Leros, turning the tide of battle almost immediately. The artillery right away started pounding British point units, the mortars (which are seriously overpowered in this system by the way) started supporting the forward units, and all of a sudden the British attack from the north looked much more tenuous, especially since what looked like the southern concentric supporting attack was in fact not going to happen.

So things went from looking pretty rosy for the Brits to looking pretty ugly. Once the Luftwaffe starts shooting again in the morning, especially since we’ve wiped out their AA defenses, it seems unlikely they’ll be able to hold out for two more whole days.

I did some research on the net, and the general sense seems to be that the campaign is pro-German. Early on that didn’t seem very likely to me, but now I am willing to entertain the thought. We took about the riskiest strategy possible and it didn’t exactly pan out as we hoped, but it still looks like we should probably be able to pull it out. Still, it was a nearly-run thing. If that British battalion had orders to go after Leros instead of Portolago, things might be very different.

One last thing, I have to say that the night rules in TCS are a joke. There are no restrictions on what you can do at night, and visibility is still what, 250 meters? And the plentiful and infallible illuminating rounds makes even those restrictions almost moot. ASL has awesome night rules, even if they are a bit heavy, and TCS really, really needs to be improved in this respect. The 4.0 beta night rules are actually even worse, if that’s possible. A shame. TCS is an interesting system, but playing a big campaign game like this you certainly get to see its weaknesses as well.

Leros: The Island Prize

Milton has been angling to start up a monster game, and after some wrangling (Milton is actually more of a Napoleoics guy) TCS was it. Omaha was offered up, but it’s huge and I find the situation not really to be that interesting. Screaming Eagles, my first choice, also was passed over in favor of Leros (my second choice, so who is complaining?).

We are using full free set up for both sides. I am one of three German players. We only managed to play one turn tonight, and things did not go as planned for the Germans.

Rather than spread out across the island as per the historical plan, we decided to concentrate on one area, in this case near the city of Leros itself. The costal artillery fire there isn’t too bad, it’s got a pier, the terrain doesn’t favor the defender unduly (unlike scrambling over rocky cliffs on other parts of the island), and being near the “neck” of the island it’s more flexible. Unfortunately, we discovered in fairly short order why the Allies rapidly decided to avoid cities like the plague during these things – the Brits had their main reserve, one battalion strong, right next to (or in some cases on) the landing zone.

We still have firepower and troop superiority at the point of conflict, but we took heavy losses coming in due to the inherently bad situation compounded by some fairly bad dice, with the landing craft getting badly pounded and the initial heavy air support completely ineffective. TCS, like OCS, can really be a game of player morale. Our situation is not good but far from hopeless, and the Brits with their awful command prep rating take forever to get going. No question the landing has put us behind the 8-ball, but we’ve still got a good shot.

I do like the TCS system a lot, I think it’s much better than the Gamer’s CWB. It’s still imperfect, though, and requires some collective suspension of aggressive gaming to work. And, like many of these big games, set-up can cause problems; this is why I like OCS and it’s typically fixed setups. The wide-open freedom to do the setup in Leros had an awkward feel I must admit once we sat down to play it; didn’t we have some sort of reconnaissance that would have detected these very large troop concentrations that the British used in this game? With zero pre-game intelligence it felt odd to me that this game may be decided mostly by how the defense setup counters the invasion plan. Anyway, not a major complaint, but still, perhaps an argument for Screaming Eagles or A Frozen Hell next time.