David Dockter
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Beckon Titus

Last week, I stopped by Fantasy Flight Games on Friday night to see my gaming friends Mr.Lee, Mr.Frick and Mr.Alsen playing some Panzer (GMT's new WW2 tactical series). In the course of watching, Siege of Jerusalem (SoJ) came up in the discussion. We wonder how we should commemorate the 1,944th anniversary of this epic battle. We all had fond memories of playing SoJ a few decades ago (the Avalon Hill version published in 1989), so, decided we should give it a shot again soon. Friday, October 5th was suggested along a location: The Source in St.Paul (Our local wargame club, The First Minnesota Historical Wargame Society meets there):

http://www.sourcecomicsandgames.com/



The facility is a great space and has a huge selection of game related stuff from A to Z. The owner, Mr.BOB, is a true blue blood grognard, pictured below (center) with Mr.Frick (left) and Mr.Alsen (right) at Consimworld Monster Con last year:


Dan, Bob and John holding court in Tempe at Consimworld con

We also thought it playing it there would drum up interest in the classic, give a chance to see our First Minnesota Historical Wargame Society gang and potentially rope in some browsers at The Source and inflict them with our wargaming addiction.

Friday rolled around and we began promptly at 10 AM. Three of us showed up with copies of the game, a pile of plastic, one broken down dice tower, game pimp out materials and four t-shirts. We rolled dice to determine sides: myself and Mr.Lee would comprise Team Roma, with Mr.Frick and Mr.Alsen playing Team Judea.





Boot Camp for Budding Zealots and Legionnaires

We decided a boot camp was warranted; given that none of us had played in at least two decades. We began with "The Assault of Gallus" introductory scenario. Team Roma split up the legion, with Tom and I coordinating our assault between The Women's Gate (I think I asked "Where's the Men's Gate?" and Team Judea answered in unison "All the other gates.") and Psephunus Gate in the New City section of Jerusalem. Boot camp lasted about three hours as we pushed counters, consulted the rule book, tried out a range of tactics and witnessed the results.

To summarize, Team Judea gave us a complete thrashing (I mean a thrashing). Lessons learned included:

1) Firstest with the mostest

We didn't concentrate our assets sufficiently; with siege engines isolating a small section of the wall at two points ("the joints" - and preventing Judaean reinforcement) and then overwhelming the small section of the wall in between.

2) Stairways to the afterlife.

We misused the escalades. Both Tom and I thought they would be a good way to get boys on the wall...it is...but the boys fall off the wall (and escalades) with quite a few holes in their bodies from a blizzard of arrows. We piled up a BIG stack of friendly cohorts, much to Team Judea's delight and good natured ribbing: "Stack'm high, boys!"...."Jeeeeeee, I wonder if those guys holding the Roman ladders are really part of Team Judea" - they're certainly helping us rack up the Roman losses in a hurry".

3) Counting factors

We didn't optimize our artillery/missile power. I usually don't like games where you have to count factors and completely optimize your fire. It always feels too "gamey" for me; more like a puzzle vs. an experience or history. One thing we quickly discovered was that you frequently find yourself short by one or two missile attack factors from getting up to the next column on the chart. Two asides here:

A) the designer speaks.

I made the comment, "I'm always one blanking Attack Factor short!", Mr.Alsen laughed and replied, "That's how it was designed. We actually played the game con Orgins years ago. During that game, a gentleman sat down to observe. Awhile into the game he introduced himself as the designer of SoJ, Fred Schachter and made the same comment in regards to our moaning about the Missile Table".

B) ...And a side order of strategy, please

I'm not really a tactical gamer; I MUCH prefer the strategic level games. HOWEVER, I do really enjoy a number of the grand old classics Grand Tactical monsters that have a big strategic dimension buried within the game. And, it is always fun to have a number of friends on one side, trying to either overwhelm our friends on the other side (leading the assault into France 1940) or somehow hold back their flood (trying to defend Russia 1941).

4) Arrow magnet

We didn't fully appreciate that you DO NOT want to be missile'd in clear/slope/ramp/escalade. Or, even a Breach is going to be brutal affair without adequate prep and support from behind the breach.

5) Plan, plan, plan

One of the real beauties of this design is how you find yourself constantly having to prepare and successfully transition through the various phases of the assault...planning is everything in SoJ...and setting up "kill zones" for the next stage of the fight. When your opponent out plans you, you will pay a frightful price.

A number of things REALLY impressed us about SoJ during the session:

1) Game play and resulting narrative is outstanding.

2) SoJ really gives you a feel for the siege; how different tactics are required during at different stages: the approach to the wall, the initial attack on a few points, getting up on the wall, staying on the wall, making a breach, holding the breach, sweeping the defenders behind the breach, the rush through the breach and battling in the built up areas. Incredibly interesting how well it is integrated.

3) Mechanics work very. It does take a few hours to "get it" (how all the LoS, movement costs, etc hangs together), but the learning curve is really not that steep - especially when you are fortunate enough to play with outstanding gamers like Frick, Lee and Alsen. These guys love the hobby, know history and are fun conversationalists.

4) SoJ has a decent strategic dimension within the context of a grand tactical cage match:

- how to deploy the four legions

- where the main axis of attack should be relative to the probes and diversionary assaults

- the prep period; how long in between assault periods should the Roman take?

- when/if Team Judea should offer "the concession" of part of the city; and whether Team Roma should accept at that time...interesting trade offs

5) This is a game beggin' to be pimp'd out. We have a standard "kit" to draw upon for our big sessions (wooden bits from old Diplomacy, Risk, etc). Worked well in our session with siege engines mounted on taller blocks, bits signifying Onagers, Ballistas, Catapults, leaders, etc. It quickly allows one to scan the map and get a feel for the situation.

6) Great for team play; we think four works best

7) It is a truly epic game...



....four legions storming the walls against a heroic and frantic defense.

So, after a few hours of boot camp, a few lessons learned, we decided to break for lunch and grab some BBQ before diving into the glorious Full Siege Campaign Game.

SoJ Prep

Probably a good place to discuss prep'ing for SoJ (should have began the AAR with this stuff):

1. There is not a lot on the net (or here on BGG) about understanding SoJ tactics, but this was helpful:

http://www.boardgamegeek.com/thread/116373/tactics-we-have-l...

2. Download the errata; there isn't much, but this file also has a few pages of Q&A

http://www.boardgamegeek.com/filepage/11986/soj-errata-pdf

3. Try to score a copy of the SoJ articles that appeared in The General (Avalon Hill Classic's magazine); a good read.

4. Playaids & Pimp'n: Trip to kinko's; enlarge some of the charts to old eye size and built some range finders (for the artillery, etc). Secured some blocks/bits/etc (good for putting the siege engines on, signifying the heavy artillery, leaders, breaches, etc. I'm toying with the idea of getting some balsa wood for the entire wall/elevated spaces. Any suggestions?

5. Mood music: Fantastic podcast on Rome: 179 episodes: Great story telling:

http://thehistoryofrome.typepad.com/the_history_of_rome/

During lunch, we, Team Roma did warn Team Judea about having pork prior to attempting to defend their sacred city. However, the boys could not be dissuaded from their indulgence. They would pay a price later that day when the dice gods extracted their revenge for this grievous violation.

A brisk walk in the cool Minnesota fall air back from the BBQ joint and we jumped into the campaign game.

Plan, Plan, Plan

As Team Roma, we had a short strategy pow-wow; how to take the New City and at what cost? We decided to:

1) Probe NE

Deploying a legion, the Fifth, against the Northeast section of the wall. The target area was the space between the rows MM > JJ. Covering fire/attacks on forts at PP and GG would be required.

2) Main attack in the center right

Legion X would provide the east flank of the main assault; hitting the section of the wall between hex row V & S. Legion X would also have to guard against a Women's Gate sortie by the Hebrews and provide a reserve to reinforce Legion V to the east on Legion XII to the west.

3) Supporting attack on the right

Legion XV would hit the section of the wall between row P & M.

4) In reserve; the hidden fist

Legion XII held off board to appear at start of Turn 3 on West edge. XV would either reinforce Legion XII or hit between forts on rows 43 & 50 on the west wall of the New City....sucking up whatever Team Judea reserves were left at that point and stretching the line until it broke.

Team Judea deployed its artillery. Interesting, nothing but a few Cauldrons deployed on the wall. Team Judea decided to hold everything else back in safe from the first assault period places for use in latter assault periods.

And with that, the assault began.


"T-shirts, forceps, bits and clipped counters; we be stylin"

Turn 1: Bastion Secured

All three on map legion followed a standard approach: 4 siege engines in the middle of the line, light infantry directly behind it (catapults after that), heavies in testudo's on the flanks, cav guarding the extreme flanks and onager and ballistas in a strategic position to apply support as required. Leader in reserve to rally as required.

The dice gods quickly smiled on Legion V in the Northeat (exerting their revenge against Team Judea's BBQ pork lunch). Heavy (and damm lucky) missile fire disrupted Hebrew in the bastions at MM & JJ...plus other nearby forces. Worse yet, the forces in Bastion MM routed in their Rally phase. The effect of this was to block any Team Judea reinforcement (routed units move last) into bastion MM; thereby creating the first whole in the line. This also brings up something we discovered early and that was to concentrate on taking a bastion (hopefully two) to set up the Ram attack on the section of wall in between).

Legion X and XV hit their respective sections of the wall, with XV suffering a few loses (1 Roman cohort) and X getting off unscathed. Team Judea was able to "release" 8 reserve units (1 zealot) and send them to the threatened sections of the wall.

Turn 2: BREACH!

During turn 2, X Legion took a bastion, while XII Legion took some moderate losses attempting to secure a section of the wall (and kept using the wrong end of the Ram in a series of futile breach attempts {otherwise known as rolling "1s"). Furious action occurred on Legion V's front. Team Judea launched a wicked counterattack on bastion MM and came within "a pip" of retaking it, but a battered valiant cohort held on. X Legion also managed to breach its section (to loud cheers as a "6" was rolled). A Hebrew militia occupying that section of the wall fell to its death as the wall crumbled.

Turn 3: Flood Gates Break


In the Northeast, Legion V took its second bastion at JJ. That, coupled with control of bastion MM and the breach led to Team Jedea to set up a defensive perimeter in the clear in an attempt to contain (which would have significant ramifications for turn 4). In a tactic that X Legion would also utilize, all the siege engines where quickly moved to bastions in the area, opening up a clear field of fire for Roman light infantry behind and thru the breach (along with the onager and ballistas).

X Legion opened up a breach (and sacrificed an unlucky friendly unit occupying the wall as it collapsed). Lepidus promptly led a cohort into the breach hex (after supplying suppressing fire against Hebrew archers on the other side (from the Roman occupied wall section and fire thru the breach).

XV Legion was fighting a desperate position to keep its beachhead on the walls and continued to suffer moderate losses (it would end up with 2 dead cohorts for the day vs 1 cohort for all the other legions - plus 2 cohorts of roman lights for the all the legions).

It was during this action, that XII arrived on the west wall of the New City.


XII Legion opens up a BIG can of roman whooooooop arse

....with Jewish reserves almost all committed, Team Judea had to abandon the wall around the Psephinus Tower to consolidate their lines. Legion XV quickly and adroitly exploited the opportunity, with their light infantry rushing onto the wall from few smartly placed escalades (Team Roma had evidently learned a thing or two from the debacle they had suffered earlier in boot camp ).

Turn 4: Atomic Roman Flamethrowers Deployed


"Deploy the atomics!"

Turn 4 witnessed what was described as "a pair of atomic flamethrowers" by Team Judea, with roman light troops and artillery fire thru the breaches opened up by V and X Legions and decimating Hebrew defenders trying to contain one breach pictured below (the small black cube is the breach...siege engines are the tall red blocks - the black block is the ram - small cylinders are ballista and onager - the funnels donate leader locations):


1st Cohort, X Legion achieves heroic status

Concession of the New City

Given the strong progress by the other two legions in the west and northwest, a healthy amount of Jewish losses (20-25 units at that point), and mulitple probable turn 5 Roman rushes thru the breaches to the built up areas, Team Judea decided to offer a concession of the New City. Team Roma discussed the pro's & con's (and, our gaming fatigue levels after a full and fun day) and decided to accept. We immediately set a date for the our next gaming session of SoJ (next weekend) and began our post game debrief.


New City on fire after brutal roman assault

Debrief...

Prep Time

Part of that debrief included Team Roma plans regarding the amount of preparation the legion would undergo prior to the next assault period. One very cool feature of the game is that after an assault period, the roman player(s) decide how many weeks they should invest in prep'ing for the next assault. Essentially, the Roman player consults the chart below and decides the number of weeks that will be required:

Weeks Before Assault: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9
% of Roman Reps (from dead pool) 15% 20% 25% 30% 35% 40% 45% 50% 60%
Armored Towers =>7/12 drm: - - +1 +2 +3 +4 +5 +6 +7
Judaean VPs 0 10 20 30 50 80 120 170 230
Ramps Built - - 1 2 3 4 5 5 5
Mining DRM NA -5 -4 -3 -2 -1 0 +1 +2
Judaean Repair DRM -5 -4 -3 -2 -1 0 +1 +2 +3

The Roman player(s) has 25 weeks to take the city (...well, 85% of it). And, they have minimum requirements they must achieve at the beginning of each assault period:

Period 1: NA
Period 2: 10%
Period 3: 20%
Period 4: 45%
Period 5: 70%
End of Game: 85%

Assuming Rome meets the requirements above, the Team Judea will still win if it earns 1,500 VPs (Roman losses: 1/melee strength, 10/art, 20/siege engine, 50/leader, 200/Titus...Escaping (setting up Masada) Hebrew units (2x melee strength), leaders (100), Commander Yair (250 pts!)...end of game territory (10 per occupied fortress, 50 if Commander Yair on board alive).

And, another way Team Judea can will: Roman mutiny (if Judaeans score 400 VPs from Roman losses in any one assault period).

So, MUCH to consider with the Roman team constantly making tradeoffs between time, resources, losses and victory; very cool. Team Roma decided to revisit the issue a few days before the next session. I did subsequently look at the map and read the Interphase rules: those minimum occupation requirements are going to be a bear. Plus, Team Judea can infiltrate in a number of places, the rest of the city will be a real challenge (the area behind the walls not in the New City are built up areas, providing good cover for the defenders - it's going to be brutal house-to-house fighting)...and Team Roma needs to garrison previous captured places; Team Roma certainly has its worked cut out for them! Most of the posts I've read on game balance seem to indicate that Team Judea is moderately to heavily favored to win.

Easy Rules Miscues

When I wrote this AAR the day after, I went back thru the errata/Q&A and rulebook to determine what items we might have mucked up (always happens the when playing a monster for the first time or after a very long break). Not sure we missed any of these, but here are were a few rules we may have not abided by (more of a memory jog for next session):

1. Command Control: range of 10 hexes from all leaders. Out of CC? Units restricted in a number of ways

2. ZOCs (7.x): Fresh infantry exert ZOCs into adjacent elevated hexes (not bastions/forts) per Q&A. However 7.13 specifically says "Units at Ground level do NOT exert ZOC into Elevated Hexes and vice versa (which made sense to us). Also, ROmans same hex with a siege engine or escalade do NOT exert ZOCs.

3. Firing at breach is on the second most vulnerable terrain (only slightly more protection than clear). So, if Team Judea can set up a nice kill zone to shoot into the braves souls in the breach.

4. Firing thru a tower: -1 for EACH tower fired through...each. So, if units fire from two different hexes thru two different towers, firing side suffers a -2.

5. Units may advance from a tower to unoccupied hex at the end of melee even if the unit advancing did not participate in melee (per the Q&A)

6. Multiple Attacks (11.9): if a melee forces a defender to vacate a hex and attacker advances in, it may (actually, poorly written..."...electing to Multiple Attack....MUST Melee") Melee again. Well have to use those multiple attack markers next time. We were aware of the groovy "Continuous Combat" mechanic, but missed the Multiple Attack item.

7. Movement costs are double if moving thru a fully stacked friendly hex.

First Minnesota

After debrief, we had chance to look at The Sources impressive wargame and military books sections and pop in on other First Minnesota Historical Wargame Society games in progress; Dominant Species, Wallenstein, our usual train boys, a game of Liftoff (fun space race game from years ago) and Andean Abyss (pictured below);


Alberta Clipper breakin out a game of Andean Abyss

....about 25 gamers in action on Friday night at The Source plus about an equal amount of Magic and role players; a full house.

During our session of SoJ we did have quite few new gamers (not wargamers) stop by and say, "Wow. What is this?", wargame rookies dropping druell over the glory known as SoJ and a few grognards popping over to say "Wow...I've haven't played this beast in 20 years".

So, mission accomplished; an outstanding day of wargaming...life is good. ...and big thank to Mr.Lee, Mr.Frick, Mr.Alsen for gamin' and The Source for hosting. On to Assault Period II next week. arrrh


Team Roma and Team Judea after one happy day of wargaming
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Jim F
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Great game thanks for the AAR (or should that be DAR?).

I only found one opponent who'd play this with me and he's now joined the dark side (euros). cry
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Jason Albert
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Tremendous AAR. And bravo for bringing a game like this out of the basement and into the public, show the wargaming uninitiated just what they're missing. If seeing this baby set up, and sitting down to watch a couple breach phases doesn't get your heart pumping, nothing will. Epic indeed.

Related: I've had some form of the following conversation with my wife numerous times on Saturday mornings:

Her: So you didn't get home last night until 2 a.m.? Were you at The Source the whole time?
Me: Yes.
H: Playing wargames for eight straight hours?!
M: Yes.
H: How could that possibly be fun?

I usually shrug and mumble. Now I can say: "See above." Such great juice in the game room, with so many styles, eras, and genres represented. Good stuff.



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Gotthard Heinrici (prev. Graf Strachwitz)
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Wow, very impressive. I am currently in a trade and was actually in doubt but reading this report my doubts have no base any longer. Thanks for posting!
 
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David Dockter
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Good to hear; we'll look forward to your first SoJ AAR
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Björn Hansson
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A very fine session report! Well done.
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Rick Thomas
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It warms my heart to see some of the "Grumblers" tee this one up! Bravo gentlemen, I look forward to your next report.
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David Dockter
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Takin it up a notch...should be finished with this "Oh my; you are a real geek" project in time for our next session: a double layer of balsa...painted grey (with the fort, bastion, fortress locations of course)...works perfectly for stacking Team Judea on the walls.

Will post some picks from our next session in a couple of weeks.


Building the walls...


Almost finished...
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Jason Johns
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Really good AAR. This was always a game I wanted to like. I still have my copy. It sure is hard to do by email...

Can't wait to hear the next iteration.
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David Dockter
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Looks like we are planning Assault Period II for next weekend; Friday (Oct 19th) at the Source.

Some REALLY interesting decisions for the Team Roma regarding next session:

1) How much prep time?

2) What/which parts of the city to hit next? Narrow and deep attack or broad and thin?

3) How many armored towers? Where to position the siege engines?

4) Where to mine? A ramp seems to early for period 2 - given that you get only 1 ramp the entire game.

5) Hold a legion off board for a turn or two (we held one off board for two turns Assault period 1 - worked well)?

...many questions...interesting game that blends strategy and tactics very well.

Our (Team Roma) planning discussion (for Assault Period II) via email has begun. I'll post that after we actually play Assault Period II.

----

Completed the wall pimp out today. Will take a pic of it on Friday when it is manned by Team Judea (prior to being swept off the walls by Team Roma). And, had the Team Roma planning session via email; we be ready.
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Kyle Seely
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Really loved this whole write-up.

In fact, it's convinced me to try and organize a real wargaming group, similar to your First Minnesota club, here in Indianapolis. Currently, there are plenty of boardgame groups in Indy but no dedicated wargame clubs. Wargamers are just harder to come by.

I think it just needs someone to take initiative and work to pull people together and schedule things - provide resources like a website, and a dedicated schedule.
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David Dockter
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Great to hear; makes my session report a worthwhile expenditure of time and energy. And, thank you for the feedback.

We had to postpone our 2nd session; one member of Team Judea was under the weather (my Team Roma teammate attributes it to our siege tactics of flinging carcasses over the wall).
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David Dockter
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Shout out to Damjon:

http://boardgamegeek.com/thread/622443/the-wargamer-campaign...

...for the SoJ strategy article from the Wargamer: May-June 1990 issue 20 by John T.Desch - very good.
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David Dockter
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Posted session two:

http://www.boardgamegeek.com/article/10386886
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gene velasco
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Dave,

Thanks for your great article, and thanks for highlighting The Source and First Minnesota. I was hugely impressed by the job you guys did with SoJ, and glad you broke out an old favorite. Looking forward to seeing more of your splendid efforts.

Dr. Gene (President of First Minnesota)
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David Dockter
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Thanks Gene; hopefully see you Friday.
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