Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Playthrough of All or Nothing [Against the Odds Magazine]

My first wargame playthrough in my new house!

I wanted to start with something fairly small, but new to me, so I chose to play All or Nothing: The Fight for Fort Mercer - October 22, 1777, a bonus game that came with an issue of Against the Odds Magazine (issue 49, specifically).

The battle depicted in this game (the Battle of Red Bank) where a Hessian force under Colonel Donlop attempted to take Ft Mercer.  Outnumbered three to one, the Americans inflicted pretty heavily casualties, and ended up holding the fort until the Hessians retreated.  Let's see how the game plays!  I will be playing this one solo.

At the core of this game, activation is determined by flipping from a standard deck of cards, with the nines and tens removed.  Black cards allow Colonial troops to activate in better ways, red cards allow the Hessians to do so.  Higher number cards allow for more activations.  If the Joker is drawn, the turn ends, unless one side hasn't activated yet, in which case the turn ends when the deck runs out (ie, it'll be a long turn).  Winner is whoever holds the fort at the end of the game.

I want to apologize ahead of time- I feel that this report may feel a bit drag-gy.  I'm trying to work on how I format session reports for games like that- I'd love any feedback.

First, I set up the game, and made some initial rolls for the PA Naval Support (3), and a card flip to determine the Royal Navy Support for the turn.  I flipped a six of diamonds, giving the Hessian player three Naval Support points as well.  Naval Support points can always be used for Fire Combat, which is good to disrupt opposing units, and potentially reduce and kill them.  The Royal Navy can also use their points to go after the PA Navy, in an attempt to suppress it for the turn.  In the historical battle, two British ships ran around, and this reduced the naval support the Hessians received here.
Post setup
Turn 1 - The Hessian are guaranteed the first activation, as you draw until a red card comes up.  The first card is an Ace of Diamonds, activating one unit, which moves forward.  This is followed by a Four of Diamonds, along two more units to move up and get into position.
Initial moves
The next card draw is a Jack of Diamonds.  The face cards allow a player to activate all of the units in an area, or a random number of supports.  Here, given the large number of Hessian units still in their starting location, the movement to break everyone out seemed a lot more important, and the units in the South-East moved out and closed in on the fort.  A Queen of Hearts follows, and the artillery in the Wooded-1 section in the middle of the board take their first shots at units in the Stockades, but fail to hit anything.

A Joker was drawn next.  Because the defenders haven't had an activation, the turn doesn't end... and I will go through the entire deck (this was a loooooong turn).

Next draw- a King of Diamonds- I activate the Clear-8 area, near the right hand of the Stockades.  The Hessian attempt to fill the ditch by the Stockade, which will help make assaults easier, but fail to get their facines into place.  The Queen of Diamonds I draw next activates that area again, and they launch their first assault into the Stockades, and succeed in reducing the defending unit.

After seven red cards in a row, the first black card comes up- an Eight of Clubs.  The Defenders focus shooting into one of the attacking units, routing and reducing it.
The Defenders finally get some revenge
Three more black cards are drawn, I reposition a little behind in the walls, and shooting kills the routed Grenadier, removing the first piece from the board!

Another two black cards are drawn (I'm sure not every game starts with large runs of the same color, which has to skew things quite a bit), and shooting from the fort and the defending units ends up eliminating another attacker, and disrupts yet another unit.  The elimination results in the first drop of Morale for the game, which makes it more likely that Hessian units break under fire.
The center of the Hessian attack is removed.
This is followed by a Seven of Spades, which involves more shooting, but the only effect was the PA Navy disrupting the Jaegers.

Finally, the large American run ends, and a Five of Hearts is drawn, giving the Hessians a chance to assault (which doesn't accomplish anything), and move another unit up, to prepare for the next wave.  An Eight of Diamonds is drawn next, and the British Navy suppresses the PA Navy for the turn.  Another Assault accomplished nothing, and another attempt to fill the ditch fails.  The Jack of Hearts activates the Clear-1 space, and the infantry begin to move up, to try to get an attack going on the fort space itself.

In response, two black cards are drawn, the defenders shoot, and two more Hessians are disrupted.  A quick note- in this game, the first hit a unit receives from Fire Combat results in Disruption, which isn't too bad- the unit's shooting range is reduced to one, they have to take a Morale Check before launching an assault, and further shooting hits require Morale Checks- failure of which can reduce or rout the unit.
Not going great for the Hessians...
A Four of Hearts is drawn, activating two Hessian units, which attempt to Assault into the right-most Stockade space... and succeed!  The defending unit is eliminated, and the attackers get their first toe-hold into the defenses!  The American morale drops as well, likely making things more difficult in the future.
The Hessians are in!
Two black cards come up, and the Americans retreat one of the Stockade units back into the fort, and the shooting Disrupts the two Hessians that had made it in.

The Hessians advance units into the Abatis, hoping to Assault into the Fort space itself (shooting from the Abatis space is harder), and the big 2-0 Howitzer finally starts to shoot, disrupting a unit inside the Fort.  The next activation sees the Howitzer shoot again for no effect, but one of those units located in the Abatis succeeds in filling the ditch into the Fort!
A ditch is filled
That filled ditch makes Assaults a bit more likely to succeed when going through the border of those two areas.

A Six of Hearts is drawn next (followed by another red card), and this results in the first two assaults into the fort, which don't work out well- a failed Morale test and a roll modified to higher than a six (which deals a step loss to the attacking unit).  The Americans counter-assault on their next black card draw, dealing an additional step loss to the Hessian force.

A few more cards are drawn for some back and forth attacks, but for a bit, there is a lull, but the Americans move their last unit back into the Fort.
Preparing for their last stand
A Jack of Spades is drawn, activating the that full Fort space... and they get to work.  Some shooting, some assaulting, and when they are done, that Abatis space is clear... and a Hessian Leader is removed as a casualty, resulting in another Morale drop.  A brutal setback for the Hessians!

More cards are drawn- the Hessians move more of their forces up, to prepare for another offensive.  They manage to inflict a step loss on the routed unit in the Fort.  However, on the last card of the Turn, the defenders once again shoot well, routing and reducing a unit, and leaving the attacking force that much weaker.
End Turn 1
During the end step of the Turn, all the units attempt to recover morale, and all actually succeed- every disrupted unit lost its disruption, and the routed units became disrupted, instead.

Turn 2 - First, the flip for Royal Navy support was a King of Hearts, which, due to the face card, meant the Hessians would have no Navy support.  PA Navy Support was a four.

The first draw of the turn was an Eight of Diamonds, which allowed the Hessian to move forces into the Stockade-1 space, and prepare to assault the Fort.  The following Five of Hearts saw the first assault begin, but there was not effect.
Hessians prepare to assault!
A Queen of Hearts is drawn, but the assaults, once again, accomplish nothing.

However, two straight black cards (the Eight of Spades and the Jack of Clubs) see much more effective work done- their shooting disrupts the two units in the Stockade space, and their assaults see both units reduced.

The next draw... is a Joker!  As both sides have had at least one activation, this ends the turn.  Much shorter than Turn 1!  The Hessian units all recover their disruption, the American unit does not.

Turn 3 - The flip for the Royal Navy is an Eight of Clubs, meaning no support.  The PA Navy, however, gets a six.  Things aren't going well for the Hessian as is... having more fire support is sure to cause more challenges.

The first card of the turn is a Four of Diamonds, and with this, I finally do what I should've been smarter about doing all game- I move Lt Colonel Werner over to the Howitzer space, and use it to start shooting.  This increases the chances that the Howitzer hits, which can have beneficial effects to the Hessian morale... but I guess I was busy trying to get some early gains, and hadn't thought it through.  Something to consider if I play this again.  Anyway, the Howitzer DOES finally get a hit, but the defending unit masses its morale check.

A King of Spades is flipped, and the defenders lay into the Hessians, disrupting a unit with shooting, and killing it with an assault.

A lowly Ace of Hearts is flipped (activating a single unit, unfortunately).  I shoot with the Howitzer, disrupting another unit in the Fort.  I couldn't decided at this point whether I should be disrupting all of the defending units (easier to do, stops them from shooting more than a single space, and makes them a little easier to assault), or try to rout and reduce the already disrupted unit (much less likely to accomplish, but much more valuable if I can).  I opt to Disrupt as much as possible to try to get my final attack in place.

Next, a Five of Spades - a BRUTAL turn for the Hessians.  The American assault destroys another unit... and then the leader... and this results in TWO Morale drops for the Hessian player.  The Mercer artillery gets in on the action, and disrupts another unit.
The Hessian attack falters...
More cards are drawn.  The Hessian moves up.  The PA Navy disrupts one of them, and the Howitzer disrupts another defending unit.
Preparing for the last push.
A Six of Spades comes next, and shooting disrupts the Jaegers.  More cards come and go to no effect, than a later Jack of Spades is drawn, and more shooting disrupts the other Stockade Hessian, as reduces the Jaegers.  The following card, a Two of Spades, sees the Fusiliers reduced.  A Queen of Hearts is drawn, and the Howitzer disrupts the last un-disrupted unit in the Fort.

Several more cards get drawn, resulting in a lot of shoots, and a few assaults (plus many failed pre-assault Morale checks), but no change in board state.  Finally, a series of three black cards sees the Defenders shoot out... and kill all of the attacking infantry units.

The artillery can move... but it can't enter the Fort.  And with that, there's no way for the Hessians to get in, so the Americans win!

Thoughts on the game
So, this is a game about a siege, and given that sieges are kind of... dull, there are definitely some challenges for a game designer trying to put one into game form.  How can you make it so both sides have interesting things to do, as opposed to just getting bogged down in running through the system?

This game, I think makes a good effort, but only partially succeeds.  The Hessian player does have interesting things to do- trying to balance out using the artillery to keep the defender's heads down, then advance the infantry up into position to assault and carry the day.  Trying to fill the ditches gives something to influence their assault odds, and the artillery, especially with leadership, definitely has a role to play.  And heck, the Royal Navy, if it can be a factor, gives you another way to get some disruption on the defenders.

For the American player, there is really nothing to do.  Sure, they get two different types of support (the PA Navy and the Fort Mercer artillery), but that's just more static shooting.  They are definitely just reacting, and eventually stacking up the Fort space to make it tough for the Hessians.  There is an option to disembark infantry from the Navy, landing it off the eastern board edge, which may have made it more interesting, but having the consistent firepower feels more important and relevant, so I don't know how or why I'd take that option.

Overall, it was a fine game, and one that I think is probably best solo.  I may get it back on the table someday :).

Thoughts on my play
I will look at two sides to this- my American play, and my Hessian play.

For the Americans, I think I played just fine, but as I said above, I don't think there's much to it.  They are just there, shooting, and consolidating.  They won, so it's harder for me to critique my play objectively.  I think I probably would do the same, were I to play this again, even face to face.

For the Hessians... I have more ideas.  I should have set up and kept a leader in the area with the Howitzer- the extra +1 to hit would've made the Howitzer and the other artillery piece a lot more effective in their attacks.  Using those artillery pieces to disrupt the defenders would allow the Hessians to advance with near impunity (disrupted infantry can't shoot further than adjacent).  Once infantry is disrupted, they have a better chance to lose assaults, AND the Howitzer stands a chance of getting some more meaningful hits, which would keep the Hessian morale high.

I think not keeping a leader with the artillery was definitely my biggest mistake, as it meant I wasted a LOT of activations shooting for almost no effect.  I had time to correct this, but was too committed to the actual assaults to pull my guys out and reposition things.  When things started going bad, pulling my guys back a space (assuming I had disrupted the defenders, of course) would've kept the Hessian forces fresh, and able to really pound away with the assaults.  Time might get tight towards the end, but given how much time I wasted, I feel there probably was enough time to get the assault done.

So anyway, I do think if I play again, I'd be able to be a lot more effective as the Hessians, at least.