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The Big Push

an after action report of the game in issue #11 of Against the Odds


by Lawrence Hung


ATO magazine game Nr.11 "The Big Push": the major British offensive in the Somme river area, together with their French comrades, July to November 1916.  

We played the 4-turns scenario "Over the Top" as a learning exercise.  It took some time to get used to the game system at the first place.  So we were just barely able to finish 3 turns in 5 hours.  A bit slower than I expected, primarily because, I think, of Roger Nord's usual approach of introducing as many variables as possible into his integrated design.  A lot of different die-roll modifiers have to be accounted for and calculated at the time of resolving combats.  Otherwise, we were pretty much happy with the game's neat treatment of command resources, where the British have more options than the Germans at the Corp strategic planning level.

One thing we tried to figure out initially was the use of the HQ for both movement and combat.  It is because an HQ in command range and in command mode should be there for assault commitments.  At the same time, they should be in supply mode when actual combat takes place to avoid that nasty +2 DRM.  Soon, naturally we knew that the Brits had the advantage in the number of HQs available!  One HQ would allow the Tommies to get close to assault.  Another HQ would supply them in combat.

Speaking of assaults, we were confused between assault, which is a normal one, and close assault.  In the latter, defensive fire fire occurs before the attacker fires.  While close assault has a +1 DRM for EACH close assaulting unit to inflict greater damage, we forgot to apply this one. We had all defenders getting to fire first in a normal assault . . . I would have hoped that the rules for assault should have clearly stated this, not only just a DRM description on the Assault Results Table.  The Brits could have pushed the German back more.  At the same time, since we played it incorrectly on the close assault rule, there was no point for the German to go over the top for a close assault, given the fairly bloody combat results for the attacker.

So the result is a false victory to the Germans . . . as the Allied could not clear all the German units from the starting trench line.  Actually despite rain-clear-drizzle weather, the Brits had done well in the centre part of Somme River , breaking through the German line, with their cavalry advancing into the trenches once vacated by the defenders. The process of Artillery bombardment is more efficient than that found in To the Green Fields Beyond, with lifting and creeping barrages being the command resources for the Allied to use.

There are no tanks in this scenario, so we didn't get to see the tank breakdown.  Replacement is calculated by counting the number of assault steps lost and disordered units.  Most Allied units have 4-steps and the Germans have 3.  Victory points would go to the opposing side for each step replaced.  Since the Allied victory conditions hinge on territorial objectives and not VPs, it is almost a wild spree for the German to get the replacements up and running and sending 'em to the front via roads as soon as possible.

Overall, we liked the game system.  The number of units and low stacking limit on the one map is very manageable and we got used to movement on the square map grid (a very nice one by Craig Grando) without problem.  The treatment of counter-battery fire is also fun.  There are 4 shorter scenarios (4 to 7 turns each) to choose from, dissecting each segment in the campaign very well.  Along with the 21-turn campaign game, we will definitely give it another spin sometime soon.

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