This session report is for my first try at playing Armored Knights - Operation Gazelle. I chose the Chinese Farm scenario because it was only 12 turns long and I figured it would give me a good introduction to the system. Also, it used only 1 of the 2 maps (which was itself made up of 4 map segments) which made it more "table friendly."
The first couple of pictures were taken off my mobile phone, so they aren't as clear. I switched to my DSLR for the rest of them, so they are much more clear.
Let me get the bad news out of the way first. While at its heart this is a pretty simple system, the rules have a lot of ambiguities in them and there are a few mistakes on the charts. In addition, there were some counters missing in the initial print run. There is a file showing the missing counters, so you can make your own, and I think (I'm not sure) that the company will send out the additional counters to owners of the game. I suspect these additional counters are included in new copies, because Grognard Simulations, Inc. (GSI) is a DTP company (although the components are more than adequate). As for those rules ambiguities, I have had a great number of conversations with the designer regarding them, and they are summarized in a FAQ available here on on the game's page.
Now, on to the good stuff. In the Chinese Farm scenario, the Israelis are attempting to do their initial crossing of the canal. The Egyptians didn't really believe the Israelis were crossing in force, so they were very slow to react to the attack. This is reflected in the game by only having brigades that are attacked by an Israeli unit or have an Israeli unit within 2 hexes be available to move. In addition, a certain number of brigades are released each day (game days are 6 turns long, 2 night and 4 day turns). During the course of the Chinese Farm scenario, only 1 Egyptian brigade is released. As such, there's really not a lot for the Egyptians to do in this scenario, making it ideal for solitaire play.
While there are zones of control in the system, combat is voluntary and not all enemies in a ZoC must be attacked. One of the neat features about the system is that support units (Armored Cavalry, Engineers, Military Intelligence, Close Air Support and Anti-Tank) give variable modifiers. The Israelis are better at this than the Egyptians. For instance, Israeli Armored Cavalry modify the strength of the battalion with which they are stacked by between -.1 and +.3 (i.e., a 9 strength battalion would have a "real" strength between 8.1 and 11.7. This makes it hard to figure "exact odds" and adds a nice twist. Egyptian Armored Cavalry range between -.1 and +.2. Military Intelligence applies to all units in the attack, and the Egyptians just aren't good at it. Their modifiers range from -.3 to +.2, averaging -.05, meaning on average, Egyptian MI units will take 5% away from the troops value. Israeli MI modifiers range from -.2 to +.4, averaging +0.067, or a 6.7% increase. When you add in an leader bonus (only the Israelis have leaders), this average goes up to +10% with a +1 leader bonus and +18.33% with a +2 leader bonus. After the MI adjustment (only 1 MI can affect a combat) is done, bonuses for Close Air Support also apply to the entire attack or defense. Again, the Israelis are much better at this than the Egyptians, however early in the game, there are so many Egyptian SAM units around that the Israeli CAS will be driven off more often than not.
Units can also get defensive or offensive support from artillery, although artillery can only fire once per turn. Artillery can also attack on its own, although it must attack an entire stack unless its attacking Israeli crossing assets (rafts, ferries and bridges). This becomes important as the Egyptians will want to destroy Israeli bridges if at all possible. Only 1 battalion (or equivalent) can cross the canal each turn via raft or ferry, while unlimited units can use a bridge by paying 2 movement points. Artillery strength is modified by MI and CAS as described above. This makes sense to me, as good/poor intelligence would allow better/worse targeting. As for CAS, I believe the design thought is that the presence of attacking aircraft is potentially very disruptive to the defenders, making all attackers more effective. Alternatively, aircraft could accidentally attack friendly troops or disrupt lanes of attack, etc. Again, this is all captured in the variable modifiers.
As one can see, this does result in a lot of number crunching. Looking at my scratch pad, I see odds of "134.16:30" (the Egyptians had no modifying unis and 56.42:17.4. So, as stated, its definitely hard to compute exact odds here. The trade-off is that calculating the odds for some combats take more time than normal. Having a calculator handy is a must (unless you're like me and are determined to do it all on paper). That being said, in the Chinese Farm scenario, I never had more than 3 or 4 attacks made in a turn, so the time wasn't excessive.
There are a lot of other modifiers to combat. Attackers can get Brigade Integrity, which modifies the base strength of the unit, however the BI is not itself modified by the variable modifiers. In other word, if I have an Israeli battalion (9 strength) stacked with an engineer attacking a unit. In the next hex are 2 more battalions from the same brigade, so the Israelis get Brigade Integrity, increasing the strength of the attacking battalions (not the engineer company, though) by 50%. So, the unit in the hex with the engineer has a strenght of 9, modified by the engineer (lets say its +.1) and modified by BI. So, in this case, it would be 9 + 0.9 + 4.5 for 14.4. Does this sound complicated? Its really not, its just a bit time consuming.
Terrain makes a difference, too. Improved positions decrease the attackers die roll by 1 and increase the defenders die roll by 1 and allow units to ignore a step loss and a retreat. Hills also affect the die roll and ignore a step loss and retreat results. Attacking from high ground is a bonus. Attacking from multiple hexes is a bonus. Attacking with paratroopers is a bonus. Attacks at night have a 50% reduction in strength for attackers and a 25% reduction in strength for defenders. All of these bonuses are laid out on the combat chart and most of them quickly became second nature.
Units take losses in steps. Units that start at a strength divisible by 3 (most of the Israelis) take step losses in thirds. Units that start at a strength divisible by 4 (most of the Egyptians) take step losses in quarters, meaning it takes a long time to kill units (the worst result on the chart is a 3R (3 step losses and a retreat). Support units only have 1 step.
At the start of each day, Egyptian brigades are released and Israeli reinforcements arrive. In addition, a proportion of the prior days losses return from maintenance or wounded returning to battle. Also, each side has a certain number of airlift replacements from the USA/USSR available during the game to replace units that have been eliminated. Units reappear at the army level HQ, meaning it may take them some time to get back into the line.
Speaking of movement, there is no "clear" terrain in this game. Most of it is desert, which costs 1.5 MP. Roads are 0.5 MP, a bridge is 2 MP and a town is 3 MP, which prevents the Israelis from just streaming across the canal. They tend to end up in traffic jams. Movement rates are halved at night.
Victory is based on taking certain objectives (Suez City, Ismalia, Chinese Farm), destroying SAM sites and having brigades on the east (Egyptian) or west (Israeli) side of the canal. Scenarios start with the Egyptians having X victory points and then victory levels are determined based on X. Scenarios range from 12 to 60 turns.
Pshew. I think that's all of the major points. So, how does it play? Well, overall, I found it played well. Stacks generally won't have more than 5-6 counters (battalion, 3xsupport unit, strength loss marker and improved position are possible). It can still get a little close, so tweezers are recommended.
Here's the set-up of the Chinese Farm scenario. As it turns out, I actually set up the northern Israelis too far forward, however it had zero effect on game play. They never advanced because they didn't want to free up an entire Egyptian division.
By the end of turn 3, the Israelis have advanced units to the canal to begin crossing. They are pushing the Egptians very hard in the hills near Chinese Farm and attacking the Farm itself. Casualties are high on both sides, however the Israelis have a lot more units to lose. Thanks to the hills and improved positions, the advance is very slow. Paratroopers give an advantage when attacking, so the attack on Chinese Farm is a bit easier Still, the IP allows the Egyptians to ignore a step loss and retreat results, so its not easy going by any means. In the north, the Egyptians and Israelis just glare at each other.
By turn 5, the Israelis are getting their 1st units across the canal. The Israelis have also taken one of the hill hexes after rough fighting, putting pressure on the second hill and threatening to encircle Chinese Farm. Night is coming, though (turns 6 and 7 are night) which will reduce mobility and firepower.
The Israelis spend the rest of the night and pre-dawn hours reducing the 2nd hill and expanding their bridgehead. Slowly the Egyptians begin to react to the attack. Unfortunately, the Egyptians are running out of troops to throw into the fray at Chinese Farm.
By turn 9, the Israelis have a 2nd brigade across the canal and are sending more troops. They have also eliminated a couple of SAM sites on the west bank, giving their aircraft more ability to aid the attack on Chinese Farm. The Egyptians abandon their 2nd improved position near the canal to shore up the defenses. The released Egyptians pull back for 3 reasons. 1 - They aren't strong enough to counterattack the Israelis on their own. 2 - If the Israelis attack them, it will release more 2nd Army units. 3 - The Israelis are at the end of their command tether, so if they advance it will be at half strength.
The final image is at the end of turn 11. The Egyptians were plagued by terrible die rolls the last 2 turns and Chinese Farm fell to the Israelis. In addition, with 4 brigades now on the west bank, the Israelis have met their victory conditions, and the Egyptians will not be able to change that. So, I didn't play out the 12th turn.
Overall, I really like this system. And yes, part of that is because I enjoy number crunching. However, the variable effect really changes things. One can never be sure how good an attack one has going on. Once I got the rules questions out of the way, the system plays smoothly. At its heart, its just an IGO-UGO game. Next time I set this up, I'm going to do a scenario where both sides are more active. As mentioned, Chinese Farm is really best played solitaire to get a feel for the system. I also think that, having played once, I could make it even tougher on the Israelis with some different unit placements for the Egyptians. Even so, the Israeli victory was a near run thing.
The designer says that the Armored Knights system will be used on other battles, and I'm looking forward to them.