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Subject: St-Lo, or how to tire your troops in three easy steps. rss

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The play's the thing ...
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Going thirty-eight, Dan, chill the f*** out. Mow your damn lawn and sit the hell down.
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Published by west End Games in 1986 and designed by Joe Balkoski, St-Lo deals with the push to capture St-Lo by american forces in July 1944. The task fell to the 29th Division who had been fighting since D-Day and the 35th Division who were seeing action for the first time. They would be opposed by the 352nd Division and the 3rd Fallschirmjaeger Division.

Physically the game is ok. It doesn't stand up to the quality of today's wargames but it isn't a train wreck either. The worst culprit is the map which is made up of blocks of colour that don't look very natural. Despite this though the map does a good job of showing how hilly the terrain was, and the importance of the two big hills for calling in artillery strikes. The counters are typical wargame counters and are nothing special but are clear and convey the necessary information. Infantry counters represent battalions but these can be broken down into companies, and you will want to do this if you want to maintain a continous front.

Mechanically I find the game quite interesting. The turns have a variable length and the sides alternate phases. In each phase the player tries to activate a HQ so they can move/fire/entrench a battalion on the map. To activate a HQ the player must roll under its morale on one die. To begin with most HQ's morale is 7 so this is easy. (Except the 35th Division who have a morale of 6). Once a battalion has been activated its morale drops by 1 to 6 so activating them in a following phase shouldn't be hard, but subsequent activations will get increasingly harder as the HQ's morale will drop by 2 each time.
What makes this interesting is that only activating a battalion once per turn means you will preserve it's morale, but will never make it to St-Lo in the 8 turns of the game. The american player has to know how far to push his units and when to let them rest. (A unit that rests for a full day has its morale improve by 2.)
Artillery has an important and powerful role and again the american commander has to know when to bombard the Germans. This is where elevation becomes important. To bombard something the active player places an observation point (OP) on the map in command range of the active HQ, and the higher the OP is above the target the more the resulting strength of the barrage is multiplied. This makes the two high points on the map Hill 122 and 192 focal points for both players.
Also when battalions are in combat players can assign 'assets' to them. These assets consist of armour, anti-tank guns, engineers and self-propelled guns. The assets add to the combat strength of the combatants and can also give one side armoured superiority. As can be expected the americans have a number of these 'assets' while the Germans don't have as much to go around. This leads to crucial decisions for the German commander about when to use their limited assets.
The Americans can also call in air-strikes, but there is a chance they will hit their own troops instead of the Germans.

The victory conditions are very straight forward, the Americans need to capture St-Lo in 8 turns and the Germans need to stop them.

Overall I think this is a fine game. Joe Balkoski is one of my favourite designers and this is another interesting design from him. The strategic situation in the game forces the players to make tough decisions about how much they will use there troops and when they will rest them if they can afford to. Though the rest is never long enough.
The american plaer will find themselves working out what part of the line will be their main effort while weak companies hold the rest of the line. And the German player will try to trade time for space before making a final stand.

Well worth playing.

On a personal note in my first game I didn't capture St-Lo, I was too easy on my troops, and I have to learn to use my artillery more effectively. Lucky this is such a great game because giving it another shot is part of the fun.
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Steve Vance
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One of my favorites. Thank you for shining a light on it.
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Cpl. Fields
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Good overview, thanks. This is one of the old West End titles I wished I'd picked up when I had the chance.

The mechanics seem quite innovative for the 1980s, but then I guess that's not too surprising coming from Joe Balkoski.
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David G. Cox Esq.
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Nicely laid-oout review. It warms the cockles of my heart to see these older wargames getting their first review.

Well done Sir!!!
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Doug Adams
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Nice review, Pete. Reminds me I still have to track down Joe's book on the 29th division.
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john f stup
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a good game except that the random reinforcements can decide the game if i remember correctly.
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M King
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Great review. I really loved this game and I regret that I got rid of it in a mood of "I'll never find a wargame opponent". The assets system was really innovative--I wonder if the FAB:Bulge/Sicily designer was influenced by this game. I got one excellent play of this against an opponent back in the day, and it was one of my favorite gaming experiences.
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Ethan McKinney
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What happens to morale if you try to activate, but fail? Does that count as rest?
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Lawrence Hung
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dougadamsau wrote:
Nice review, Pete. Reminds me I still have to track down Joe's book on the 29th division.


On the contrary, I have the book but not the game.....the review itches me to push the button. Thanks for the review which reminds me of some of the key features.
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G.W.
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elbmc1969 wrote:
What happens to morale if you try to activate, but fail? Does that count as rest?


No, a battalion HQ that fails an activation attempt loses two morale points, so it's penalized and will be even harder to activate or recover next time.

Thanks for such a detailed post about this old classic. Nice to see it getting the attention it deserves. The activation rules are quite advanced for a 1980s game, and compare well to even some of the chit-draw systems in use today.

I have a Saint-Lo campaign game going now. I'm playing it solo on VASSAL but using Combat Mission: Battle for Normandy to resolve the more interesting or critical battles in 3D, in turn-based games against a real opponent.

Check out this post for an overview of how this campaign has played out so far:

http://www.battlefront.com/community/showpost.php?p=1334806&...


You can't believe how thrilling it is to see the boardgame's situations come alive this way. The scales of the two games are very compatible, too. You can take a jpeg of the boardgame's map and place it as an overlay in Google Earth to get a pretty close idea of where the battles are happening in real-life Normandy.

I, too, have been perhaps too cautious in pushing my US troops hard and fast enough.

The US went all-out on the opening July 11 turn and blew a huge hole in the German right capturing Hill 192. But those combats drained the US battalions so much that they had no choice but to rest for a day or more.

Now it's July 16 and they're still a long way from Saint Lo. The Germans have used chewing gum and baling wire to keep an intact corps front, but this should be the critical turn because the rested GIs will be able to make "intensive" attacks in some weak spots with strong asset support.

(Saint Lo gives players three types of attack, each with increasing costs in HQ morale points: Hasty, Deliberate, or Intensive)

Has anybody ever won as US in this game? Seems to me any halfway competent German player will be able to stall and delay the US past the point of no return.
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G.W.
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petegs wrote:

I have to learn to use my artillery more effectively.


From what I've experienced so far, my take on artillery is:

As Germans: Use as much of your artillery as possible in Interdiction Fire. It's the only way to reduce the US initiative, and that effect lasts for an entire day/turn. So it costs a lot of fire missions, but the potential return on that investment is huge.Save a few fire missions for defensive support, of course, but don't waste artillery (or any other assets) to support outnumbered and doomed single companies.

After interdiction, I'd say the second priority for German artillery should be trying to keep the strongest and most threatening US battalions pinned with barrage fire, especially once your FOs can spot from the major hills and make the barrage fire highly effective. That way, the US wastes precious HQ morale points trying to recover those battalions and get them moving forward again.

As US: Since the game doesn't let battalions combine fire (each battalion has to attack separately), you'll find it hard to get adequate attacking odds and decisive combat results unless you use your artillery and airpower to prep your attacks. You always want to be attacking a disrupted -- or at least pinned -- enemy.
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Lawrence Hung
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tc237 wrote:

Totally agree about any of Joe Balkoski's books and his Beyond the Beachhead: The 29th Infantry Division in Normandy is probably the definitive study of the campaign.
It is a must read (along with Carafano's After D-Day)


I was kind of stuck in the pages of training of the 29ers though.
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The play's the thing ...
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Going thirty-eight, Dan, chill the f*** out. Mow your damn lawn and sit the hell down.
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Broadsword56 wrote:
elbmc1969 wrote:
What happens to morale if you try to activate, but fail? Does that count as rest?


No, a battalion HQ that fails an activation attempt loses two morale points, so it's penalized and will be even harder to activate or recover next time.


Thanks for the reply Broadsword, spotty Interent connection has made it hard to answer the question.

And further to your point, once you fail activation your opponent gets to go so you miss a phase really as well.

And who knows if the Americans can win, there's something about the game that keeps me wanting to try and see if I can!
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G.W.
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petegs wrote:
[q="Broadsword56"][q="elbmc1969"]And further to your point, once you fail activation your opponent gets to go so you miss a phase really as well.

And who knows if the Americans can win, there's something about the game that keeps me wanting to try and see if I can!


Yes, the activation and HQ morale rules are "that something" that takes Saint-Lo to a special level for me. It was interesting that at times, my Americans had blown open the German front line near Martinville Ridge for as long as 24 hours and yet were unable to capitalize on it, due to nearby battalions' inability to activate adequately.

This is also highly realistic. Read what the German survivors say about the Saint-Lo battle, and you'll often see them criticize the Americans for what seemed (to experienced German commanders) like excessive caution, lack of initiative, and intelligence failures. The Germans disclosed later that several times in the campaign, the road to Saint-Lo lay wide open and the Americans -- if they had only realized it -- could have been into the city within hours. Instead, US delays and command confusion allowed the Germans to keep regrouping and falling back and plugging the holes, which tragically led to more GIs losing their lives attacking well-defended bocage positions.
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tc237 wrote:
I'm looking to jump in soon as I can get a copy (of rules or game)...I don't have CMBN but a few months ago I was following that thread about the huge map mod.
I thought they gave it up? But good to see it is in use.


You can find used copies of Saint-Lo pretty easily, for not much money. I got mine from Noble Knight Games.

For anyone interested in using Saint-Lo and Combat Mission: Battle for Normandy together in an operational-tactical campaign, I've now posted my set of suggested conversion rules, in case anyone might find them useful...

[filepage=http://boardgamegeek.com/filepage/76444/player-aid-for-resol...][/filepage]

Anyone contemplating this type of game would want to download my [url]master map [/url] which covers a 4km x 4km area of the boardgame and lays out all the authentic field patterns and road grid. I didn't map the boardgame east of the Saint Lo-Isigny highway, because Fallschirmjaeger units aren't yet available in CMBN (they'll be out in about a year with the Market Garden module).
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jerry adamsson
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oneoldgamer wrote:
Great review. I really loved this game and I regret that I got rid of it in a mood of "I'll never find a wargame opponent". The assets system was really innovative--I wonder if the FAB:Bulge/Sicily designer was influenced by this game. I got one excellent play of this against an opponent back in the day, and it was one of my favorite gaming experiences.


Speaking about influenced , I guess , but just guess, after reading about "strafexpedition" that it too have some similarities.

Can anyone tell if im right or wrong
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matt gonneau
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The review inspired me to track down a copy of my own and I'm not disappointed. A very tight and concise (but meaty) rulebook nicely fleshes-out the game's driving concepts simulating the circumstances of the battle - and compared to some others here, I actually like the map quite a bit
 
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Thomas Beach

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Thanks for the very nice review.

I have this on the table right now, not having played it since it came out. Balkoski really shines with this game design. A tense, fast-paced challenging game with just enough detail to evoke the feeling intended while not overcomplicating matters. I especially enjoy the use of Assets as attached-only support units which must remain with their assigned infantry battalions until reassigned, as well as the artillery mechanics which keep them off the board reducing clutter and unnecessary mapboard activities.

One can easily see Joe's development of concepts dear to him which he would later incorporate into his GCACW system.

All you have to do is get beyond the low-quality map graphics which West End was typically known for. But this game sweeps you up so easily with its design that map graphics quickly become unnoticed. Replayability is very good with the innovative and unpredictable SOP mechanics (again such as the later GCACW games) and is excellent for solo play.
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Craig Ambler
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Just setting this excellent game up again to play. One of my favourites and I try to play it every couple of years.

Never gets boring.
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