David Dockter
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Retro Day at First Minnesota Historical Wargame Society. Full AAR here: G.A.A.R. -- 01/16/15 -- A Fistful of Retro


John Hill's Kasserine Pass

Getting HH on the 1st Mn Table

1st MNer Mr.Nelson boldly declared that Jan 16, 2015 would be “Retro Day”. Since, a number of us primarily play big honkin retro wargame beasts, it presented us with a difficult challenge: which one of our beasts should be played? After some discussion, we narrowed it down to either Wacht am Rhein or Hell's Highway.

Mr.Alsen indicated that Bob the Source’s partner Jerry Corrick had a properly pimped out copy (about 1.5x the map, big foam counters - unfortunately, the micro font on the counters not enlarged) of Hell's Highway (HH). Mr.Alsen then called Jerry on Tuesday. Wednesday, it was in the mail from Virginia. Thursday AM the game arrived from FedEX. We also scored a scanned copy of the rules from a fellow BGGer (thanks Rene !). In the afternoon, I made a quick run to AxMan to secure a couple of red berets. The game was on.

We arrived at our club lair, The Source in St.Paul, at 10.30 AM and began setting up.


AxMan has everything; including, of course, a zombie apocalypse kit with some useful weapons that would make the Walking Dead team proud.


Rule reading day before prep


Jerry Corrick's glorious customized BIG version of HH


setting the beast up

Overview of HH


HH credits; with an appearance by 1st MN's very own 30 Corps Commander Alsen



HH is from Victory Games, which means it is a high quality smart as a whip beast of a wargame. We played The Korean War three times in 2014 and were completely impressed: June 20, 2014: 1st Mn Does VG's The Korean War...and Goes Ga Ga.. Mr.Alsen was a HH veteran (and playtester!), so, we had our HH dungeon master.

Some bits about the game:


HH Fire Table

1. Combat: Unique


HH counters


HH Terrain Effects Chart (TEC)

Basically, units fire at each other. Either direct or indirect. However, the effectiveness of that fire depends upon what you are shooting at, what state they are in (combat or travel mode) and, most importantly, the terrain they occupy. Forget traditional odds based CRTS (Thanks riddance!). Another welcomed departure from traditional designs, battles among groups of units are being simulated. So, if you attack enemy unit A, adjacent enemy unit B also gets to participate. Defense fire occurs first, meaning that many attacks will not come off (the attacker gets disrupted). You may also toss artillery and engineers into the combat, depending upon HQs, etc. All very cool. And, NOT fiddly.

My only beef would be that the combat fire table doesn't produce enough variability; maybe a ten sider or 2 six siders or more Bergish die roll mods would do the trick and some "X TABLE" results (results at the extreme end of the range).

2. Movement: Simple, but rich player choices.

Yes, it has IGYG (I Go You Go...yuk), but, with some good twists. Units are either in combat or travel mode (select the mode at the beginning of a units move that stays until the next time the unit moves – so, you have to live with your choice thru your opponents turn). Stacking is 2 units not to exceed 5 steps. Negotiating the terrain requires a good deal of planning (when to be in combat/travel mode).

3. Logistics: Simple, but interesting.

Each formation has a supply point track. Each time you roll a “6” in combat, reduce the supply points by 1 for each friendly unit participating in the combat fire. When you run out of supply, every “6” must be satisfied by reducing steps. Innovative and smart (another Victory Games trademark).

4. Counters, Map and charts: Usable

Counters. Grumble, grumble. Yuk. The font is too damm small and there is no graphic love. None. We liked the info contained on the counter. The problem is that they are VERY difficult to read and there is no art/cool icons. A rare Victory Games misstep...and that counter art approach is present in all their games. Given that the titles in the VG stable are such great designs, it’s never been a significant bitch & moan of ours. But, you've got to wonder how many players have passed on VG games when they take their first look at the VG counters. They look "dense" - a barrier to game accessibility


German off map boxes

Map. We liked it a lot. Looks good (for old school), functional and smart. For example, there is a cool system of off board boxes; units move from command reserve to operational reserve to tactical reserve (from which the units can then enter the map). This allows the Germans to shift the axis of attack, which, is very cool.. Think we’ll even play with an off board hidden display next time – which would introduce a decent amount of fog of war.

Charts. Two you use constantly: TEC and Combat Fire. The TEC.. Very interesting. Each piece of terrain is rated for movement costs and impacts on combat fire for each type of military unit.

5. Scale & Operational: It fits together well.


Catastrophic Loss!

Here's an example of this VERY well integrated design: catastrophic loss. You're not going to have a strategic will model at the tactical/operational scale. However, Butterfield has placed a "catastrophic loss" mechanism in HH; so, if a formation suffers a high causalities, it's going to have ramifications - similar to an "army morale break" in a number of games.

You really need to plan out what the hell you are doing to get anywhere in HH. If you are not thinking a turn or two ahead, you're going nowhere. You're attacks will be the definition of futility. Plan ahead!

Also, this not a monster. Really. Only the length of the campaign game, 20 to 30 hours, puts it in the heavy class. There is relatively low counter density, you never stack more than 2 units and there is no unit status counter clutter. One could even play a scenario (the horror!) instead of the manly campaign game if one didn't want to commit to 3 long sessions. But, then, you'd get an email from Victory Games calling you a weenie.

6. Rulebook: FABULOUS.

As Mr.Alsen said in the car on the way home, “I’d like to know what drug Butterfield was on when he wrote this rulebook: it is brilliant – VERY concise. I concur. 40 pages, but take out the scenario set up, about 30 pages. And, cut that in half since VG used half of each page to provide discussion, examples and exceptions. Very smart.

7. Teachability, Grokability. VERY good.

Low learning curve to understand rules, high curve to maximize your play using those rules.

8. Beloved chrome. Not much. cry cry cry


SNL's Deter

This the only place that HH falls short. Not much chrome. Sort of a clinical feeling. German Minimalism. No leaders (what da! WE DEMAND A SEAN CONNERY COUNTER!). No cool art/icons. VERY minimalistic counters (with micro font) that would make Deter proud. But, this was not a show stopper for me: the design is so damm good.

Pre game Strategy Session


The HH game map: zones & choices

I've posted a copy of the map above with a few notes highlighting the key choke points in the game (the battle is all about the fight for those choke points, as one would expect, with one decent road going through difficult terrain.

Essentially, the Germans decided to go rope-a-dope with the British 1st and flood the middle part of the map with reinforcements. One key to this strategy was retaining ownership of the bridges and road nets at Arnhem and Nijmegen (so that reinforcements could flow south). In the end, the strategy proved to be a winner in this bootcamp session.


Putting together the puzzle

Early on, 1st MN Retro Day man, Mr.Nelson, stopped by with a Market Garden oldie: Arnhem Bridge . The game has a puzzle piece map: six pieces that interlock to form the game map. It was a hoot watching Mr.Nelson unable to solve how the pieces (a whole six pieces!) fit together. At some point, one of us took pity on Mr.Nelson and put it together. We then proceeded to gave him a well deserved healthy ration of sh*t


Sean Connery urges the 1st MN FORWARD! Take my bridge, lads!

Turn 1: 30 Corps Leaps (crawls) Off Starting Point and Airborne Divisions appear in Holland


30 corps commander Alsen

So, we got started at around high noon. Didn't take long to setup due to Corrick's properly pimped out HH copy (all the setup counters color coded). We gave our dungeon master Alsen control over 30 corps and nominal leadership over the airborne divisions. The plan was that as interested parties stopped by to observe, we would rope them into taking an airborne command. We ended up enlisting four other players at various times during the day. Hopefully, we infected a few with our big honkin wargame beast disease. arrrh

Allied Supreme Commander (and 30 Corps big cheese) Alsen started rolling dice to determine the effectiveness (or not) of the airborne landings. Overall, they went pretty good except for the 101st and a couple of key disrupts on the British 1st. Alsen hit a series of rolls with no disrupts. He was using a funky dice - one where a symbol replaces a number. After finishing the airborne rolls and seeing that stupid symbol show up too many times, Alsen checked the die. We all thought it represented a "1", when in reality it represented a "6". Meaning, each one of his glorious symbol rolls would have resulted in a disrupted unit instead of a ready to rock unit. German Southern Commander Frick promptly took the die and buried in his pocket: "Use of this die is now verboten!".


Alsen's magic die

Despite Alsen's magic dice, the airborne forces ended up with 15 disrupted units.

30th Corps failed to clear the speed bumps in front of it resulting in Commander Alsen mumbling, "Well, that was spectacularly piss poor".

Note on images below: Blocks/cones are supply depots, small disks are HQs. Under each image is a turn number and the sector. Example, T1 B1 - Turn 1 and British 1st Airborne Division sector.


T1 30 Corps


T1 B1


T1 82nd


T1 101

Turn 2: Bob the Source Stops By


Bob the Source reenacts his numerous past HH debacles

Bob the Source popped by as we began turn 2. He had a Jerry Corrick gaming story or two regarding their numerous plays of HH. Unfortunately, Bob the Source couldn't squeeze in some counter pushing this particular Friday, but he said "I am immediately making plan to attend Consimworld Expo (a 1st Mn favorite) this June in Tempe. http://expo.consimworld.com/

Alsen, asked, "What are we playing?". Bob the Source responded, "ANYTHING BIG!".

In the British 1st Airborne sector, Allied progress. The brits pushed three recon units into Arnhem and managed to wipe out the german unit at hex 8012. However a spirited German counterattack took out one of British three recon units and established a position near what became known as the Sean Connery bridge (of course, from the movie A Bridge Too Far).

The Americans cleared out resistance at Oedenrode and Vegel - and the 82nd solidified its position just south of Nijmegen.

British 30th Corps remained gummed up on the road well south of Einhoven.


T2 B1


T2 101


T2 B1 first causalities

Turn 3: 30 Corps Goes Turtle

Slow progress by Team Allied. Weather was clear, but air strikes were relatively limited and ineffective. The big development in the game was the German forces pushing 11 units into the off board operational/formation boxes - setting up an early game flooding of the mid map. British 1st Commander asked, "So, when does 30 corps arrive?".

As 5PM rolled in, we noticed 25 fellow 1st MNers on the gaming tables: it looked like Retro Day was offing to a rousing success in the dead of January 2015. arrrh


T3 30corps


T3 B1


T3 82nd


25 1st MNers by 5 PM

Turns 4 & 5: Germans Flood the Zone

German forces flooded into Nijmegen, after entering from tactical boxes on the Northeast portion the game map and pushing south from Arnhem. Additionally, the Germans were grouping their artillery (two "8" point arty units and the "5" point Nebelwerfer rocket (a "21" point death star that would be brought to bare on unsuspecting 82nd and 101st forces). Weather turned cloudy and the Germans counter attacked, retaking a hex in Arnhem and holding the critical gate open at Nijmegen.

30th corps continued its debacle south of Einhoven (helped along by the inspired leadership of German Southern Commander Herr Frick).

The 82nd managed to ambush and massacre a beefy German unit stuck in travel mode. The 101st sat curiously quiet.


T4 30corps


T5 B1...notice the BIG stack of German reinforcements in the upper left waiting to flood the zone


T5 82nd


T5 30corps


Fresh new students for the game

Turns 6: Declawing of the 82nd Airborne


Sir Patrick (extreme left) intervenes as an emergency commander for the 82nd


British 1st Commander Wallid (extreme right - in the evening's best tshirt - written on the front "98% chimp") is not pleased with the inability of the lads to take Connery's Bridge

Sir Patrick took over command of the 82nd Airborne. His first action was to press attacks on the German line just south of Nijmegen. Two units assaulted the waiting Germans. During the German portion of the turn, Deutsch units pocketed these the 82nd spearhead. A message was sent to 30 Corps: situation desperate - please hurry.

In the British 1st sector, more German units reinforced Arnhem. Additionally, an artillery death star was established in the vicinity to aid in a renewed German local offensive.

30 Corps continued to struggle with the position at Einhoven.


T6 B1


T6 82nd...big German reinforcements heading south out of the Nijmegen


T6 The Gate Holder and hero of the day: 60th PG


T6 Bridge secured.


T6 Bunker Grave

Turns 7 > 8: Packing It In...the Backdooring of the Infamous British 1st Airborne: Sean Connery is NOT pleased

During turn 7, the Germans launched a ferocious attack on "Bunker Grave". The first attack was a disaster (with one German unit eliminated and the others choosing to retreat), but the follow on attack by German tanks forced a stalemate (with Allied units disrupted, surrounded and dispirited). The effect was that even if 30 Corps could somehow clear Einhoven and the smaller cities directly north, Grave would prove to be a tough nut to crack.

At Nijmegen, the 82nd was able to extract a few survivors of the pocket, but it was clear the German position was now nearly impregnable and the 82nd was becoming depleted.

In the British 1st Airborne sector, German forces appeared in the east (the backdoor) and began to set up a strong attack on the supporting british depot. British 1st Airborne Commander Wallid cried out, "Where is 30 Corps?". The British responded by breaking off an attempt to eliminate eastern flanking forces to deal with the new threat to the south.


T8 B1


T8 30 corps

Turn 8 began with Allied spirits low. 82nd was stuffed at Nijgemen, the Br 1st worried about an unexpected attack on its supply depot (but likely able to at least respond to the German lunge after the Deutschländers boooofed their attack to freeze reliving forces in place), the 101st going nowhere and 30th corps still visiting the brothels of Einhoven. The turn would not improve their collective spirits.

As Turn 8 ended, we checked the clock: 10:30P. We'd invested about 10 hours of game play (about an hour a turn). Not bad for a boot camp. We decided to toss it, instead of write it down and resume the game at a later date, since the Allied position looked rather gloomy. Of course, we had only finished a third of the game - and we are very curious as to how it would develop once the supply situation became critical for the Germans (remember, that if you don't have a supply point to spend when you roll a "6", you reduce a step). In the end, we had accomplished our task: play of an outstanding design from yesteryear and hopefully enlisting a few more fans of the big honkin beasts from the 1st Golden Age of Wargaming.


T9 B1


T9 82nd...Germans in firm control of Nijmegen and pushing 82nd west


T9 Bunker Grave


T9 30 corps



Big Thumbs up for Hell's Highway




Mr.Sox

Two years ago, when our club was in its very initial stages of rebirth, we played It Never Snows. Fun game. The type of game that attracts spectators that can easily be roped into pushing a counter or two. 1st MNer Mr.Sox (our club's rabid White/Black Sox fan) made a perceptive comment on Retro Day that compared the two games: "It Never Snows is more dumb fun, while Hell's Highway is a better simulation". I agree, with a slight twist on the remark: It Never Snows is "more accessible" fun. HH takes a little more work, but, once you put in the effort the fun is "more filling/MUCH richer taste" - which is always the case with a decent big honkin wargame beast.

I would play either game at the drop of dime. And, I'm not a tactical/operational player; it's not my scale. We couldn't shake the feeling that we had only scratched the surface with HH; that our level of tactical competence sucked. Yes, we understood the rules and system, but, we weren't remotely proficient at running a decent attack. Initially, we blamed the design ("not bloody enough"). On further reflection I believe the fault rested with myself and the other HH rookies. Most importantly, we collectively wanted to play some more HH to become minimally good at using the design Butterfield gave us. HH had clearly hooked us.

Yes, there are a many titles regarding Operation Market Garden. If you had to choose just one, this is a great choice: a beefy, playable monster that really gives a historical gamer a good sense of the battle, has great, smart play value and is playable in one long weekend (20 to 30 hours) with your mates. You can pick up a copy under $50. Get one.

For more 1st Mn/Sawatdee/Herr Dr AARs: 1st MN/Sawatdee/Herr Dr Session Reports


1st Mn Retro Day poster



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Simon Blackwell
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Brilliant. What a way to spend time with friends
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Gordon J
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Good job, it must take awhile to write up these AARs.
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David Dockter
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A few hours. Most of the work is in sorting thru & uploading the images to BGG. The First Minnesota Historical Wargame Society always provides enough material so that the story writes itself

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Greg S
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I purchased this when it was first released. I have a vivid memory of bringing this along with me during my Army service, and playing through a learning session while sitting up all night as the duty driver at Bn HQ, with the officer on duty looking on with curiosity (his last name was Ramseur, and YES, he said he is related to the civil war Ramseur...).

Like many grognards, I have this game tucked away and haven't touched it in years. Your AAR has caused me to question that situation, and it will now come out of retirement!

Thanks!
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David Dockter
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Great story!
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David Gray
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Beautiful write up. Good to see you folks in the cities doing such a great job.
 
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Mark Riley
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Herr Doktor - the VG counters were small due to an error at the printers but VG wanted to release the game so that was that. Anyway you can get a completely revised counter set from Kerry Anderson here

http://members.shaw.ca/kerryanderson/

Click on redesigned counters on the left. Here is the artwork

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David Dockter
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Wow, didn't know that it was a printer's error and not intentional. Thank you for the link! I did click on it - where on the site are those HH counters?
 
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Mark Riley
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Click on Redesigned Counters on the left and you can see HH listed as one of the games Kerry has an alternative counter set for. Just email Kerry at kerryanderson@shaw.ca, he'll give you a price and takes Pay Pal.
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T. Dauphin
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goatleaf wrote:
Herr Doktor - the VG counters were small due to an error at the printers but VG wanted to release the game so that was that. Anyway you can get a completely revised counter set from Kerry Anderson here

http://members.shaw.ca/kerryanderson/

Click on redesigned counters on the left. Here is the artwork



Yea, those counters have to be the worst!
Thank you very much for this info.
I was going to ask how I'd get the VASSAL set printed out.
Getting a set of these!

 
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Roger Hobden
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Awesome AAR !


 
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M St
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goatleaf wrote:
Herr Doktor - the VG counters were small due to an error at the printers but VG wanted to release the game so that was that.

Yes, this was apparently VG's first release (that's why they really wanted to get it out the door) and they had not established a routine with the printer yet as it was their first job. What happened was that the counter images had already been reduced at VG to allow for the required "gutter" (i.e,. margin) for diecutting but the printer didn't realise this and reduced them again.

Quote:
Anyway you can get a completely revised counter set from Kerry Anderson here

http://members.shaw.ca/kerryanderson/

Click on redesigned counters on the left. Here is the artwork


Note that Kerrys counters are not just redesigned but come mounted and diecut.
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David Dockter
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Thanks for the info on the VG counters.
 
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Ron Glass
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Excellent post. HH is also one of my favorites, and I have an enlarged and laminated map as well, but use the original counters (gives a little space to reach in for us old-timers). When played, we usually just play with 4, though have done games with 3, 5, and 6.

Been posting shorter-game variant details on the HH site so glad to see others pull this one out for a great game day.

Ron Glass
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Keith Plymale
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Great AAR thanks. I also wanted to point out there is a revised counter set in the files section.
 
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Jason Cawley
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Great AAR, but one finer point in the narrative -

"The first attack was a disaster (with one German unit eliminated and the others choosing to retreat)"

Attackers don't get to choose smaller losses by retreating. Only defenders have that option. Attacking is a quite dangerous business in Hell's Highway, since the defenders fire first and the attackers don't get to turn 1s into retreats or 2s into 1s and retreats. They take full losses as printed on the fire table, always.

FWIW...
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David Dockter
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Thanks for the rules clarification.
 
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Thomas Beach

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Thanks. Almost as much to read as it is to play.
 
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