Three Block War

With a rare day off, a dude from my class came over to waste the day playing through the Three Block War mini-campaign for the original Ambush Alley (although we used the current edition of Force On Force). It’s a nice little series of three linked games, based around the philosophy of modern warfare easily encompassing elements such as providing humanitarian aid, peacekeeping, and all-out combat, potentially within very close places and times.

I played British Army and Gareth played the Martyr’s Militia, in a game set in Fictionalistan using the standard Fog of War card deck. The table was a bit rough-&-ready; with my big deserty tablecloth not fitting on the oval glass table in my flat, I ripped the frames off a couple of whiteboards and used the backs of them, and threw some palm trees with unfinished bases on because I like them anyway.

Game 1: Wave At The Folks Back Home

Nice idea for this one, insurgent agents provocateur rabble-rouse crowds around a food aid truck in the town square (printer was out of ink so I had to improvise civilian mobs).

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Unfortunately the Regular player was to draw a Fog of War card before game start, and I pulled out one that made everyone shove on their gasmasks and protective suits, dropping their effective Unit Quality from d8 to d6, and a -1 on Reaction tests. Now worse than their insurgent counterparts who were getting automatic reinforcements and turning the crowds to fighters, things were only going to go one way. The Brits dispersed a couple of mobs by yelling muffled orders through gasmasks, but an ill-conceived bayonet charge by the Lieutenant at a group of insurgent agitators (d8) caused the deaths of the boss and his sergeant. Such is the tale of the Haddid Square Massacre. Three men made it off-table to try to reinforce Checkpoint Dog, towing a casualty, but maybe they should have looked at what was happening behind them.

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Game 2: Cross Town Traffic

A beleaguered observation post needed reinforcing or abandoning, and the three men from the main effort arrived to bring the good news.

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This game’s fortuitous starter card gave me off-board snipers who basically won it for me – as Gareth would anticipate slotting my guys running past them, his unit’s leader’s face would explode. My typically fragile machine-gun team got wasted, but were pulled out and the OP abandoned to reinforce Checkpoint Dog.

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Game 3: Checkpoint Dog Has Its Day

With insurgent vehicles streaming toward the shambles in Haddid Square, this checkpoint is the only place to stop them! I had some decent reinforcements to bring, a defensible position, and no bloody gasmasks.

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However, the Force On Force vehicle damage rules, which I’d been mulling over recently because they’re just not a lot of fun, made this almost purely a game of rolling a single die high (or failing and losing). I did mess up a technical and one transport vehicle, but eleven angry men with Kalashnikovs in a former Royal Mail Land Rover will put a crimp in anyone’s day. The men of Checkpoint Dog died hard (a few of them did anyway), but were wiped out to a man.

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That was a fun day and we both enjoyed ourselves. The rules worked well and smoothly in general, and the scenarios are characterful, imaginative, play well to the game’s strengths, and incorporate real consequences for decisions (for the Regular player).

Things that irritated me were the rules of engagement in the first scenario and the vehicle rules. The RoE said no shooting until fired upon, so Gareth spent the first few turns getting his guys right up beside mine in the square, converting mobs, and making sure my lines of fire would cross friendliest and civvies – then, as soon as one shot was fired on the board, all the Regulars yell “let’s rock!” and start tearing the place apart. I think the Positive ID rules from the Afghanistan book (with the sarcastic name) work better, but would not be entirely appropriate for this situation as then the Brits would likely fire first. Maybe both restrictions should be in place, but that’d make things very hard indeed for the Regulars (no shooting until there’s shooting, and then ID targets before firing). Also I wouldn’t have minded a bigger table, it was very crowded but maybe that’s intentional (tiny town square if so though).

I just don’t enjoy the new vehicle rules. Collecting a bunch of dice and rolling them has a nice tactile thing going that’s in a way evocative of putting out a load of firepower, and the way infantry combat is handled doing exactly that is probably the biggest thing that made me get into Ambush Alley, which literally got me back into wargaming from years away. It’s fun and satisfying! So doing that, which then translates to a die type for a single roll on a table (roll well to win, roll poorly to lose), is conversely somewhat unfun and frustrating – the fistful of dice mean almost nothing. The original Ambush Alley vehicle rules were pretty simple but they did have a good feel of vehicles getting beaten to crap but still limping along, with more hits meaning more effects, rather than just a bigger die for one roll. I know some wargamers prefer one straight roll to a bell-curve probability (Fire and Fury and its offshoots, for example) because it’s more chaotic, but I find that too random and luck-based; a die-rolling contest. I don’t know enough vehicle damage systems to be able to come up with good ideas of my own, but I wish there were a way that the Force on Force system for handling infantry combat (specifically the receiving end thereof) could be applied to vehicles.

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