Tuesday, 25 April 2017

GF9 Tanks Practise Games - Part 2: Test Game 1

Setting Up
I've finally got to my first test game of GF9 Tanks, though it's not my very first game - I had a couple of tries at the local game club last week - but, this would be the first game where I would be responsible for the interpretation of the rules. Part of this learning curve is how to set up the game board...


One of the nice things about GF9 Tanks - especially if you compare it to the other 'tabletop' skirmish games I'm interested in (Bolt Action and Flames of War) - is that the game only requires a 3-foot by 3-foot play area. This fitted very nicely onto our dining room table, which is exactly 3 feet wide. And, even nicer is that it has extra length at either end so each 'player' (me and me in this case) can lay their game cards out without encroaching onto the play area.

I laid the terrain out in a roughly symmetrical manner - as this would normally be done by the players taking turns to place scenery where they want - and deliberately made do with the game's 2D flat 'woods' and 'houses'...


And, They're Off!
Well, no more procrastination, let's try out the game...And with but the most cursory plan of defence/attack (it's hard to really plan tactics when you are playing a game solo) my tanks simply set off towards each other!


I guess that's a bit untrue, as I had decided that my Shermans would try out a widely spaced advance to try and catch the Panther is a cross-fire. My initial experiences - both in my initial participation and through watching tutorials - gave me a sense that these small tank battles can easily turn into a rather farcical 'Benny Hill' style of chase if you aren't careful, so I tried to limit close engagements...It didn't rally work...


With just two or three tanks sides seem to naturally just home in on each other, and with no range factor in the shooting, there seems little point in long range sniping. Within a couple of rounds, the Shermans were closing in on the Panther, trying to catch it in a pincer movement.

Turn 3 saw the Panther first to be in a shooting position, as he swerved into the woods...


Technically, I guess both Shermans can actually see the Panther through the trees, but my thought here were to try and do a hit and run as I could still pull the German tank back up behind a house that is just out of shot on the left. Plus I wanted to engage the Shermans at as big a distance as I could and not let them catch me close in as a pack...

The Panther engaged the farthest Sherman first, knowing that the special  'Blitzkrieg' rule would allow me an additional movement in the following Command phase (remember, the phases are Movement, Shooting then Command).


BOOM! First shots away and it was a very good roll, with three critical hits (6s) and one normal hit out of six die. It could have been worse, as one of my crew upgrades also allows me to re-roll one of my non-hits...Unfortunately, this still produced a miss, but it was still a blistering attack...

In reply, the Sherman actually minimised what could have been a knock-out throw, by rolling a 6 and a 5, cancelling one of the crits and the normal hit...But things were still bad, very bad...


The two critical hits resulted in a couple of devastating cards, both with high damage. The total damage wiped out 5 of the Shermans 6 defence points in one go...Holy crap! I had to hope that the Shermans shooting could cause some equally punishing damage, surely two Shermans could get some revenge?

The closest (as yet undamaged) Sherman now moved in between the Panther and his crippled partner, while the damaged Sherman - with only 1 defence point left - did the only thing it probably could do in the situation...


And hide behind the cover of a nearby building in the hope his teammate would grab the Panthers attention long enough for it to - perhaps - do a sneaky flanking move.

It was a heroic attempt to minimise the damage to the team and it certainly caught the attention of the Panzer but the result of this selfless act was not any sort of good karma as the dice gods favoured yet another devastating attack roll by the big cat!


But the most significant blow was that one of the Crucial Hit cards was the dreaded 'Crew Bail Out' card...


With Sherman No. 1 (cowering behind a house for cover) on just 1 defence point and now this brave Sherman down to 2 defence point BUT with a bailed out crew the writing was on the wall. The Panther had thus far only taken 3 damage - so still had 3 left - which was a dreadful performance by Team USA...

So, in the next Movement phase - with the condemned victim unable to move (I didn't manage to roll a 'repair' save in the Command phase), the timorous Sherman decided to move out of cover. Unfortunately, I made a bit of a tactical error here - not that I feel it could have turned the game around, but you never know - as, instead of moving to a position where the still active Sherman could chance a shot, I moved it with the intention of flanking the Panther (a case of too little too late)...


The red overlay - in the above picture - shows where I should have moved in order to give at least some covering fire to the other helpless Sherman! But, stupidly, I moved the Sherman into yet more cover (thinking I might still be able to sneak around the southern-most house and get a shot on the Panther)...

But it was an obvious and mistimed action and the Panther signalled its intent and used it's 'Blitzkrieg' movement to position itself for the coup de grace...


I further compounded my mistake by again opting to keep my severely damaged - but sole working - Sherman behind cover (really, I don't understand my own thinking here). With my bailed out Sherman unable to make use of the Movement phase it was straight onto the Shooting phase and the merciless execution shot by the Panther...


The 'Blitzkrieg' special rule really allows the Germans to take control of a situation when they have an advantage, and so the Panther immediately switches from one target to another...


FINALLY, my remaining Sherman comes to life - or, rather, it is forced to do something by the threatening Panzer - and attempts to move round to take on the Panther from the side. But the German tank reacts in its Movement turn to counter this and swings around to block and face the Yank...


The Panther then uses it's extra 'Blitzkrieg' move to complete a flanking run and gets around the side to position itself for a side-shot in readiness for the next Shooting phase. At this point, I could have begun a pathetic 'Benny Hill' chase around and around the house but instead decided to chance to luck and have the Sherman stand its ground...

The next Shooting phase should have spelt the end of the game, really, but - for once - the German roll let it down with just two normal hits and the Sherman actually managed to cancel these out with it's defence roll!


Taking some hope (that the dice gods were now favouring the Americans) I decided to pull the Sherman back around the side of the house, while still facing him down!


But - again - the German's frustrating ability to get an extra move in the Command phase meant they were always going to be able to catch the Sherman up. So, I opted to keep my Sherman stationary during it's Movement turn and just accept the punishment, in the hope I could pull out another lucky defence roll. But, things didn't look good when the Panther's attack produced two 'crits' and a hit...


Unsurprisingly, considering the very poor rolling of the Americans thus far, I couldn't pull a miracle out of the hat and my last Sherman succumbed to the withering fire of the German...


--- GAME OVER! GERMAN WIN! ---

Debriefing and Final Thoughts
First of all, experienced players of GF9 Tanks will have spotted the mistakes I made in my novice interpretation of the rules which are scattered throughout the game! This was a learning experience and I did spot quite a few of these myself as I went over my photo-log of the play. Hopefully, I will rectify the majority of these mistakes in my next practise game.

(In 'live games' - against real opponents - I will benefit from the second pair of eyes double-checking and correcting my understanding of the rules.)

But, other than this understandable wobbly rule-knowledge I really enjoyed the game itself. Though, understandably, I was very disappointed with the lacklustre performance of my 75mm armed Shermans. But, at the end of the day, you can't do anything about phenomenal dice rolls, and the Panther certainly had the lion's share of those (forgive the pun).


The Pros: Well, every game is learning experience so every game I have will improve my competency. This is perhaps the best I can say for this instance of the game. As to the game itself, it's fast and fun and easy to learn. It's a great icebreaker or warm-up for an evening or something you can do quickly between or after larger more complex games.

It's also a great segway game for wargame novices (like myself), and it can lead onto more in-depth (but still not too complex) wargames, like Flames of War (which uses the same 15mm tank models).

The Cons: At the same time, GF9 Tanks lack of complexity is perhaps also it's weakness.

I particularly, found the lack of a ranged handicap a wee bit frustrating as no range penalty meant that tanks were bound to want to close quickly. And then - if one side felt they were not up to a 'one on one' - this would inevitably lead to what I have called the 'Benny Hill' effect where one tank would end up chasing a weaker one around and around nearby cover!

However, I think the Meeples & Miniatures blog can do a better and more in-depth analysis of the quality of the rules of the game: Review: Tanks – Panther vs Sherman Starter Set

Suffice to say that, as a newcomer to tabletop skirmish gaming - and thus very inexperienced - I found this 'Tanks' starter set a really good leg-up onto the first run of the wargaming ladder. However, I am a bit sceptical about the long-term entertainment value and feel that - after a short while - the player may feel that they want something similar but with greater depth in its rules (Flames of War, for example). But, maybe this is what the game developer had in mind.

Anyway, for the moment Tanks does the job for me. And, with the ability to add objectives, missions and lots and lots more tank models I can see it being a while before I feel I have to move on.

Next: More of the same please - but perhaps with better American tactics this time!

Postscript: I mentioned that I 'deliberately made do' with the games included flat scenery, this was so I could double check my initial impression that the 2D house tiles didn't help the player quickly ascertain what was and wasn't in 'cover'.  Now I have played this game, with plenty of time to study the line of sight I concur with my first thoughts, 3D houses would be preferable for determining whether tanks are exactly in and out of cover.

But, I reiterate that the starter set's 2D scenery is welcome and is great value as part of the set. Also, the same 'issue' isn't quite true of the woods, funnily enough. And the flat woodland tiles are actually more practical as they allow you to move your tank models freely in and out of the 'trees'. 3D tree models might be a bit of an obsticle to moving your models without constantly having to move them about.

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