A two-player game of the Anzac Historical Scenario, September 2013
Scot and I played the historical Anzac Landings. We have not (yet) found any major holes, although we fixed a few details and clarified the reserve rules. This is a supervised play test, because I am playing and can change the rules as we go. Blind play testing should start in November. We are playing Thursday evenings, averaging one real hour per two-hour game turn. We usually manage two turns per week.
The first photo shows the advance of the 3rd Australian Brigade. They have reached the inland slope of the 400 plateau, which was their historical high water mark. The 2nd Brigade has begun landing, but two stacks are confused after heavy losses from shrapnel from the coastal defence batteries at Gaba Tepe. Anzac morale rolls have been quite poor - two half-battalions have routed (each with only a 3% chance!). Presumably the lads are "helping to unload stores on the beach."
The Ottoman 57th regiment has been released from reserve, the tall stack near the centre of the map. The two other regiments of the 19th Division are still in reserve on the eastern map edge. The 9th Divisional cavalry have arrived at the Southern end of Gun Ridge, but otherwise only a few scatted pickets remain.
The next photo shows the 6th Company of the 2/27th concentrating on Gaba Tepe, and the arrival of the other two battalions of the 27th Regiment. This column includes a mix of new and old counter styles.
In the third photo the Anzacs have descended into Legge Valley and have just begun to climb Gun Ridge. The run of bad Anzac dice rolling ended when the 3rd Brigade did not fail their attack orders and so were free to continue their run for Gun Ridge. The race is on for the crest at Scrubby Knoll, but who will get there first? The 3rd Brigade or the 57th Regiment (just one hex away)? On the fourth turn (no pictures yet) the 57th Regiment attempt to roll to change their orders to attack, but rolled a zero and decided to seek confirmation from Corps headquarters before committing the Corps reserve without approval (historically Mustafa Kemal just did it anyway!)
Further up the range the Ottoman pickets have withdrawn onto Battleship Hill, while the 3rd Brigade flows around the south, and the 1st Brigade to the north. The Anzacs Northern flank is the Fisherman's Hut - to go any further North would violate their orders. Both 1st and 2nd Brigade had to roll to change their orders when they landed. Both brigades took heavy losses from shrapnel in their boats (I have since sightly downgraded the fire effect on boats).
At the Southern end one rather damaged and confused 3rd Brigade unit has actually managed to reach the top of Gun Ridge near Anderson's knoll. However, the 27th Regiment has arrived so it is likely to become flanked and pushed off or destroyed.
The next photo shows the 27th Regimental column pushing north on Gun Ridge. They have yet to roll to Change Orders, which they must do before they can actually assault or move into a ZOC.
The third week we played turns five and six (maintaining a steady two turns for evening, one hour per turn). That brings us up to 4pm on the first day, with one daylight turn left. The notable events this week are that 3rd Australian Brigade finally fail their Attack orders, the Ottoman artillery starts to fire, and the Australians capture Chunnuk Bair. The 3rd Brigade front line can be seen as the dashed red felt pen line on the Plexiglas. The 1st Brigade has established a good line on the left flank and on Chunnuk Bair. The right flank is only loosely held and will probably need to be reinforced by the New Zealanders to protect the active beach in Anzac Cove. However, the Ottomans are not in force there either.
The Ottomans have five batteries facing Chunnuk Bair. They completely destroyed two companies that advanced over the ridge in the open, which is realistic. The Australians won't be mounting any more large scale attacks during daylight. It will be interesting to see if a Commanded fire bombardment of Chunnuk Bair can weaken it sufficiently so that the attacks from the 57th and 72nd Regiments can retake it for the Ottomans. I fear a bloody sunset!
Following this session I re-examined my source maps and found some tracks that would have brought the 19th division reserves onto Chunnuk Bair earlier. They would have had their artillery earlier and the fight would have been over Battleship Hill, which is more historical. We were concerned that reserves needed to move faster, but the problem was the map.
The fourth week took us through the night to dawn. Both armies are generally exhausted, although the NZ&A still has some fight left in it. The Ottoman artillery is now powerless, so the Ottomans choose to dig in where they are. Both sides have orders to attack on the main ridge, and both players are desperately hoping that their attack orders will fail - the attacks do not have sufficient strength and will result in high casualties for no results (a classic World War I problem - an attack goes in "according to plan" even though the plan is way out of date). As it was all the orders failed.
Although the Australians have a firm grip on Chunnuk Bair, there is a massive hole in their line just to South around Battleship Hill and Baby 700 - historically the two most important terrain features! To make matters worse for the Australians, the elite Turkish 57th Regiment is poised to exploit this gap, and in fact already has one battalion well forward inside the Australian lines (underneath the blank white counter). Scot however decided he did not want a whole battalion isolated and likely to be destroyed - unbeknownst to the Australian player, the 57th just failed their attack orders and have only one turn to rearrange themselves before they switch to Disorganised Defence, effectively locking themselves in place. So both players breathe a sigh of relief when he withdraws the 57th- a nice fog of war effect.
Scot is very worried about the Southern end, where the Otago battalion has unexpectedly found a gap in the Ottoman line and is threatening Gaba Tepe. The Anzacs outnumber the Ottomans on this flank, and the 4th Australian Brigade is still in good shape. The Anzacs were not hit as hard by the Ottoman artillery as they were historically, which I think is why they still have a spare brigade.
Dawn brings a big rules discussion. In the rules that we started with, all orders are rewritten at 6am. That feels unnecessarily arbitrary and too flexible, so after some discussion we decide to continue orders and simply use the existing Change Orders mechanism. However, we add a bonus to the number of Officer Points at dawn to simulate the "new day" effect that humans always feel. Even so, we are both furiously writing new orders to try either to plug gaps in our lines, or exploit the gaps we can see. I find that my whole front is interdependent - I can't consider any Brigade in isolation because they all need their neighbors to extend their flanks. I find myself being drawn into the game and being fascinated by the playing, rather than standing aloof as a designer. I haven't felt that way about this game before. To me that says that the design is a winner (although I acknowledge it won't suit players who dislike orders).
Scot and I have spent several more enjoyable evenings on the play test of If Only. The game is holding up well as a simulation, and also as a game. The attack on the main range has bogged down. The Anzacs were feeling pleased with themselves for having reached the military crest (Chunnuk Bair) on the first day, but in their enthusiasm not all of them entrenched during the night. Now it is the second day and the Turkish artillery is firing a murderous hail of shrapnel at any non-entrenched Australian. The 2nd Aust Bde is particularly badly hit. As soon as he can get all his regiments back into order he will launch a divisional attack. I think he will succeed, although that will probably be the end of 1 or 2 of his regiments and I hope to still have a toehold on Chunnuk Bair with 1 Bde.
Artillery is murderous, but every time I check its casualties against the historical records, they match up pretty well.Desperate times for both of us. In the South the New Zealand and Australian Division has reached the sand hills behind Gaba Tepe.
Scot is worried that my 4Bde will set off Panzer-fashion and march 5 miles with unsupported flanks to their objective at Mal Tepe. I am more worried that my enthusiastic A&NZ division has left a big gap between it and the Australian Division. I only have one battery of Indian Mountain artillery (with 10pdr field guns) in the gap. Their only advantage is that they managed to knock out the opposing Ottoman artillery, and the 27th regiment is also not so keen on going out on a limb. Wearing my designer hat, I am glad that both players feel that the other is about to win.
In any case, the 4Bde has been ordered to take Gaba Tepe and so they are jolly well going to do it, gap or Mal Tepe be damned. They are planning to charge machine guns across open ground (as is traditional!). At least there is only one MG, but it is a 4 barrelled, hand cranked, 25mm Nordenfelt gun. Originally design to mount on a Torpedo Boat Destroyer, to be used to destroy Torpedo Boats. Now set in a concrete base with 360 degree traverse. Oh Boy.
The next two photos show the results of the first and second charges at Gaba Tepe. The first was repulsed in confusion, the second ended up in a long and messy fight in the Gaba Tepe trenches with the coastal defence artillery men and their museum piece. Eventually the 4Bde won, but they lost most of a battalion.
Scot has been trying to recover his three Regiments on the main range and launch an assault with the entire 19th Division. He has recovered two, but the third is still feeling disorganized. We decide that we want to test what would happen so it magically passes its Command Check and the attack is launched!
The Australians hold most of Chunnuk Bair, all of Hill Q, and are almost on the highest plateau - Koja Chemen Tepe (Hill 971). However, to achieve that they moved during the night turns, rather than digging in. To be fair to them, their assault orders were still active so they were not allowed to dig in. That restriction is a historical - the Anzacs dig not dig in on the first day because they always expected to be re-starting the advance. Only later would digging scrape during any short halt become standard practise.
Scot begins his assault with an artillery barrage, which causes some losses to the troops hiding in the folded ground. They are immune to low angle rifle fire, but not to shrapnel - it comes in at a slightly higher angle. Of course what he really needs is howitzers. The Ottomans come on in battalion stacks to improve their odds in assault at the cots of taking more opportunity fire hits. However, the Australians who are not immediately under assault dare not come out of hiding to fire because they themselves will now be exposed to the full effects of shrapnel and enfilading machine gun fire. One by one the Australians are pushed back or wiped out (most having taken heavy losses in their fight up the range). Eventually only those in pits are left.
In the final positions the Australian Division has taken heavy casualties and been pushed well down the range. They no longer hold Chunnuk Bair, which is the key terrain. They do have Battleship Hill and all of second ridge (the Chessboard and the 400 plateau) so their position is much less perilous than their historical enclave. Even better, the A&NZ division took Gaba Tepe so they can unload ships without any coastal defence fire. However, the Royal Navy Division must land as soon as possible because there are simply not enough units to hold the whole line. Mind you, the Ottomans are similarly stretched and will need to divert at least one regiment of the 7th division to fill their line, thus weakening the southern flank fighting the British 29th Division at Cape Helles. Who knows, maybe that would be enough to allow the British to win the First Battle of Krithia and reach Achi Baba?
We think that the reason that the Anzacs did better than historically because of the map errors which prevented the Ottoman Artillery from getting into position on the first day. The second day was actually more like the historical afternoon of the first day. Losses were within 20% of historical, and artillery caused the most troublesome losses to the Anzacs. So the play test confirmed that the game is well calibrated.
Overall I am very happy with this play test. Nothing is completely broken, the Change Orders rules feel right, and I clarified what I knew to be some fogginess in the reserve and defence rules. We are averaging one game turn every hour, which means two hours simulated time for one real world hour. Although the initial battles after the landing lasted three days, I think the outcome would usually be clear after two days game-time, so the game should be playable in a day (perhaps with set-up the night before). That is a good length.
Next is Helles