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Toppling the Reich: The Battles for the Westwall» Forums » Reviews

Subject: Review and session report rss

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Joe Mclaughlin
Australia
Thorneside
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This is a brief session and review of this game. It is based on one solo play through of the first scenario. A lot of the ATO games don’t have much of a profile here on BGG so I thought that this might fill a bit of a gap.

Session

The first scenario covers the month of September 1944 and is only 4 turns long. The allies have to grab 16 points of cities and towns beyond what they start with. The game came out pretty close.

Turn 1
had no big events, I was still feeling my way, the allied attacks did some damage and pushed the German line back without breaking it. The Canadians eliminated the cut off Dunkirk garrison. All the action was on the Northern half of the front, the allies did not have enough units or supplies to be strong everywhere. Complacent, the Germans just thickened their line and created some reserves but did not garrison rear areas.

Turn 2 the allies achieved breakthrough attacks with the British and the Americans. The exploit move took the British armour all the way to Antwerp, but they were now out of supply and command. The British had pocketed the German 15th army against the coast and the Scheldt as happened historically. The special access across the Scheldt to Flushing on Walcheren Island was still open to the Germans and I assumed that they could trace supply across it. This allowed the 15th army to make an attack to recapture Antwerp. The defending British armour division was at half strength because it was out of command control range. They Germans now had a 2 hex wide corridor from the 15th army to the rest of the western front. They still had a large hole in their line in central Belgium and could not ship in enough troops to build a solid front.

Turn 3
. The Polish parachute brigade dropped on unoccupied Flushing to cut this supply/escape route. Antwerp was too strongly garrisoned to attack directly. More breakthroughs were made to the Northeast. The allies reached the Meuse at Maastricht, they could have pushed on to Eindhoven but then would have been beyond supply and command.

In the far south the American 7th army routed the small German force. The exploit move allowed them to reach and attack the army and army group HQs. Destroying the later meant that the Southern half of the German front was out of command in its movement phase, this meant they could not rail units north to plug the hole in Belgium this turn. (After the game I found rule 3.5.5 that says destroyed HQs are returned in the next friendly move phase so I had played this wrong.). Still, it is not a good idea to leave higher echelon HQs where they can be attacked.

The allies were still 5 points short of victory but the best the Germans could manage was to occupy some cities and key river crossings to prevent them getting those extra points on the last turn

Turn 4
. Allied supply line was now at maximum length to the Northeast. Without Antwerp the HQs had to trace back to the railhead which was still only a few hexes north of Paris. A drive to Arnhem was not possible. An attack from back more to the West was possible with the potential to break through North to Rotterdam and Amsterdam. (Breakthrough exploiting units get free supply for that bonus move and attack but you have to be in supply to make the first attack to create the breakthrough.) Two airborne divisions, 101st and 1st were dropped, one at Breda just behind the attack and one onto Rotterdam itself. A large British attack using 8 divisions was made for the breakthrough but the Germans had their reserves now from the withdrawing Fifteenth and had put CAP over this hex. The attack result was only a defender retreat with no breakthrough. In the subsequent German turn both of the airborne divisions were destroyed.

Elsewhere the 82nd Airborne dropped onto Cologne hoping that Patton would get a break through to relieve them. This was a "last turn of the scenario" move, in the campaign game it would have been too risky. Again the attack did not get the result and in the German response the 82nd went the way of the 101st and 1st.

In the centre Hodges did get a breakthrough and captured Luxembourg, Trier (a Westwall hex) and Thionville The Germans managed to retake Thionville in their turn. In the south the Americans and French were able to make an unopposed advance as far as Colmar. The units had to advance way beyond supply range to do this.

Game end. The Germans won a narrow victory, their line was in tatters but the allies were overextended on their supply. Had the campaign continued from here I am not sure what would have happened.

To me it felt like September 1944, the direction events went in seemed a reasonable variant of what happened historically and that is what I look for in a wargame. I will set up the same scenario and play it again very soon, which is a good measure of a game..

The game is fast flowing and fun. The same rules that made Panzerkrieg fun, reserves and breakthroughs are still in force here. The breakthrough results can cause big changes in the situation. As I found out, the defence needs to be in depth, cities and bridges need garrisons, if you can afford the units.

Review of Components

Map

The map is done with soft colours so I think most people would describe it as plain but serviceable. I like the mottled background effect used for the clear terrain hexes, it adds some texture. Some of the hex sides in the Scheldt estuary are a bit hard to interpret (which sides are meant to be major rivers?) but for the most part those hexes are probably not going to see much action anyway. One important hex on the approach to Antwerp was clarified in the published errata.

Counters

The most noticeable thing about them is that they are not NATO standard. They are to a pattern which as appeared in some other WWII games from the same artist. I think the symbols are based on the WWII Wermacht system. Anyway, I like them and found it easy to read the unit size and type after a few minutes of play. ATO try to give their games a distinct look and I like the difference.

Rules

For the most part the rules are good. I found most of the system easy to follow and it worked in practice without constant re-reading. I played Panzerkrieg years ago and the similarities between the two systems may have helped some.

For me, the big exception to the above is the command and supply rules, which are a significant part of the design. I think that the overall intent of these rules is clear enough but I found a lot of confusion in the details. It appears to be 2 level system, rules say that a unit marked OOS can still attack but only a minor attack and with half strength. Other rules in the combat phase say a unit must be able to trace supply at the time of combat to be able to attack. I eventually played it as two processes, effects of being marked OOS or OOC at the start of the turn and additional effects in the combat phase.

A few other examples that I could not see a clear answer to. If a unit is marked OOS or OOC in the command phase and then is found to be in supply or command in a later phase do you remove the marker and the effects then or keep it till the Reorganisation phase? In any case the reorg phase only talks about removing OOS markers, no where does it mention when to remove OOC markers. Why do you mark defending units that are OOS in the combat phase (rule 3.5.2)when only being OOC affects them in combat and there is no mention of whether you test command then for the defender?

Because I was playing solo I was able to push on with the game and keep trying to work out how to apply these rules as I went. If I was playing with an opponent I would want to get complete agreement with them on these rules before I started play. The developer’s answers on Consimworld helped with some issues but with others in the end I had to go with what I thought fitted the designer’s intent without any clear or absolute statements in the rules. I don't think this is a bad design, I just think that a reasonably complex rule has probably gone through a number of iterations in development and the final ruleset has not captured the thinking precisely.


How it plays

This game is based on the Panzerkrieg system from way back in 1978. So in one sense it is an old school wargame. However this game has a lot more in it than the old system, TTR has 17 pages of rule to PK’s 10 pages.

What they have in common are the elements that made PK fun and different, Breakthrough results and the use of reserves for defence and exploitation moves. Other elements still there are the use of leaders and the fact that non-mechanised divisions do not have a zoc.

What has been added is a new air system that uses points rather than counters, more detailed supply and the concept of command control. Another major change is the CRT is now built around step losses not complete unit elimination

Breakthrough results come with high die rolls at high odds. They allow one attacking stack with an armour unit and any reserves in command range to make a second exploitation move and attack. In one turn (a week) you can bust through and encircle parts of the enemy. It can model events like Patton’s August breakout (not actually covered by this game) or the German breakthrough at sedan in 1940. All that and it is fun too! Getting the breakthrough results is critical to success, especially in the early scenario.

The best chance to get a breakthrough is with positive die roll modifiers, below 6:1 there is no chance without a plus and even at the highest odds you need to get a 5 or better. Positive die roll modifiers come from using leaders in the combat. Like PK each leader adds + or - 2 (defenders can use leaders to). Unlike PK you can use more than one leader, you can use an army leader, an army group leader and an army front leader. If the defender can commit more leadership than the attacker a breakthrough is impossible.

Army HQs stacked with units can use those units as reserves. In defence they can move the unit up to 3 hexes to add to a stack being attacked. As the attacker is limited in the number of effective attacks a few units in reserve along the line allow the defender to be stronger where they need to be. Reserves can also be committed to exploit after a breakthrough result in the HQ’s command range (4 or 5 hexes). The game system strongly encourages attacker and defender to keep reserves which I like as different to many WWII systems.

Command and supply are strongly limiting factors in the game especially for the allies early on, as the session above showed it is easy for the exploiting units to run beyond supply and command range and suffer as a result. This worked well, without it the allies probably would be in Berlin for Christmas.

Unlike many West front campaign games TTR does not cover the invasion, the game starts on September 1st after the initial breakout where the campaign becomes a broad front. I think this was a wise choice, a hex and turn scale that can cover the whole campaign will have difficulty covering the very different scale and intensity of operations in Normandy. Also because it removes invasion alternatives the game will be more of a simulation of the actual campaign rather than "what ifs".

A few people here and on Consimworld have asked whether you could play this with the PK rules instead. My opinion is, not really. By the time you fitted the old rules to the step loss counters and need for supply brakes on the allied advance I think you would just be building a hybrid. If you didn’t do that I expect that the game would produce some ahistorical results. May as well just learn the new system.

And for those of you who want to keep the old Monty vs Patton debate going, Patton is rated as a 7 and Monty as a 3. To balance things up though the British and Canadian infantry divisions are much stronger than the US. Also the game includes the important British independent armoured brigades, something that MMPs The Mighty Endeavor chose to leave out. Monty might be a bit lack lustre but the British and Canadians pack a punch.

Overall, I think that this game deserves more attention than it seems to have got so far. Knowing what I do now I would buy it again.
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