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18 Steps to Victory or Defeat

18 Steps to Victory or Defeat

Posted by Alan Emrich on Jul 25th 2018

Keeping Pace with Axis Attrition in Barbarossa

“Balance, Daniel-san!” Mr. Miyagi averred. "Lesson not just karate only. Lesson for whole life."

Fueling the great attritional engine of war are replacements as represented in Frank Cadwick’s ETO series by Resource Points (RPs) for Personnel (PPs), Equipment (EPs), and Fuel (FPs). Sustaining the Axis offensive on the ground during Operation Barbarossa are the initial pools totaling 18 German Personnel Points (PPs) and 18 Equipment Points (EPs), each of which translates to the recovery of a single Major unit step among the Wehrmacht’s myriad Corps and Army units (known colloquially among players as "Infantry steps" and "Panzer steps").

Axis Resource Track

At a spending speed limit of only 2 per turn for PPs and EPs (and there are 13 weekly turns in the Barbarossa Scenario of Thunder in the East), math dictates that once an Axis service arm begins taking 1.5 or more Major unit (i.e., not small Division units) step losses per turn, that branch of the Germany Army degrades from attrition and starts fraying around the edges. Just as the glove for your left hand does not fit your right hand, neither do Infantry PPs and Panzer EPs mend the other glove. As attrition wears down the vaunted Wehrmacht in their drive to the east, you must strive to spread your losses over both the light and heavy branches of the army so that neither depletes itself of replacements in a greatly disproportionate manner (that your opponent will no doubt exploit).

Particularly in a Campaign Game when multiple years of such fraying will eventually rend the Axis’ front line and leave it extremely vulnerable, managing attrition is a vital subtext to winning the war. By keeping combined arms (i.e., Light plus Heavy units) attacking and defending together (in-hex), you will find opportunities to mete out your own losses in a balanced way to ease the burden on your disparate Resource points.

The Right Tools for the Job

1. Stinginess: It is okay to have some wounded units on the map. Not every unit across the front needs to be at full strength to be useful (particularly on defense). Sometimes the front line just has to make do with less. You are a smart player; benignly neglect some of your units here and there and just watch – you will figure out how to make the best use of them.When preserving Light and Heavy steps so that your 18 PPs and 18 EPs do not evaporate prematurely, there are useful (if grim) tools available for the job.

2. Cheapness: With only 18 RPs in each hand, anything you can do to stretch them further is welcome. Half price (i.e., 1/2 RP each) Small Ground units, 2nd-Line Infantry Corps replacements, and Korpsgruppe improvements are a real value. Where the line settles for a bit, consider padding its defensive strength with cheap Garrison units especially at a City hex where you suspect an enemy counterattack, airdrop (especially where your HQs are located!), and/or partisan activity. Whenever there is a Division unit in the Axis Force Pool, it is usually worth pouncing on and quickly returning it to play.

For cheapness’ sake, breaking down your Heavy Corps into their Motorized (white Movement Allowance) Division components (pictured above) has merits. Not only does this help you on offense (squeezing an extra Small unit through a hexside to support an attack to add in their few, possibly crucial, Attack Strength points) and allows for Mix-and-Match (see #4, below), but you can take losses from these units that only cost 1/2 RP each to rebuild! As an added bonus when rebuilding them, they appear at any friendly City hex in that Theater and not all the way back in their home territory (so you don’t need to rail them back to the front and can use them right away to attack with during your Special Movement and Combat Phase). Having Division units spread around the line to take the casualties is the cheap player’s answer to the 18 steps of Barbarossa.

German Korpsgruppe (KG) units. The good news is that they can be raised back into a reduced-strength Corps units for a mere 1/2 Resource Point (RP) – half the cost of buying that same reduced-strength Corps unit out of the Force Pool and plunking it back in the Reich. But then, that is true for every nation having such Corps Remnant units...

The better news is that the German "superpower" in ETO is organization. Thus, when properly positioned at a friendly City hex during the Free Stuff Segment of your OOB Step, you can improve these bronze medal boys with your Force Pool’s worst silver medal or Division unit of their type for free. KG units always exist very near the front line, but when a Leg KG is in a City hex just to the rear (out of EZOCs) it can also maneuver during your Special Movement Phase.

When a 2-step Corps unit is replaced thus (on its 1-step side) for free via a KG unit, you just saved 1 entire RP (and, if it was a Heavy Corps units, 1 Fuel Point as well). All of that for free! And while that Korpsgruppe’s replacement unit might not be that great (at least it has a silver medal), it was free! When you were a kid you might have played with an inflatable clown that you punched in its big red nose – every time you knocked it down it would pop back up and so you could punch it over and over again. Korpsgruppes are those inflatable clowns; make sure you use them to keep popping back up units from your Force Pool on the cheap.

Note: When you have a 3-step Army unit on the map, you should either scheiss or get off der kessel. That is, replace it back up to a 4-step Army unit or break it down into its component Corps units. Why? Because if it loses another step and you must involuntarily break down that Army unit, that means placing one of its component Corps from your Change box to your Force Pool and its KG unit in the Force Pool along with it! And that means replacing it is not free anymore; it is a direct 1/2 PP expense.

This sort of Axis creative accounting reduces the attrition tax on those 18 PPs and 18 EPs, and those not using these techniques will quickly bleed their RP pools dry, driving into September of 1941 with nothing left to commit and an offensive stalling out from your line of reduced-strength units unable to heal. Should that occur, sagacity only gets you so far after you become “that guy.”

3. A Little Help from Your Friends: The Minor nations helping you attack Russia can also withstand a few losses. Spreading them out to help shoulder the burden of attacks or to pay the price defending key hexes (bolstered in that defense by working in pairs, or with German Infantry or Garrison units) allows you more opportunities to select Minor nation units for losses and, therefore, spend their PPs (few though they are) to keep going. Between the Italians (1), Romanians (2), and Hungarians (5), that is another potential 8 PPs you can use to spread out the attrition losses along your line.

4. Mix-and-Match: Attacking and defending stacks with impure forces (i.e., mixed types and/or mixed nationalities) afford you more options when you select your own combat step losses. This is easier to achieve when attacking, as you can typically attack from more than one hex and get to arrange these attacks during your Special Movement Phase, meaning you can roll up Mobile units from a distance to support an attacking Leg unit and/or Minor nation unit. Another great advantage of bringing a Heavy unit to help a Light unit’s attack is its presence in conjunction with Close Support dice you might have. If you roll a Heavy unit icon, even the lowliest Armored or Armored Infantry unit present at that Battle will give you the full benefit of an odds shift!

Mix-and-match defenses are more challenging because they only involve a single hex (so the unit variety must stack together in it). Determining which hexes are best suited for a mix-and-match defense requires examining the board from your opponent’s perspective and scouting out likely places where they would benefit from counterattacking. Keep your eyes open for hexes that are: A) Vulnerable to attacks from three or more hexsides; B) Key terrain features that you must hold (e.g., Objectives, vital City/Rail Junctions, easy access to your rear areas and HQ markers, etc.); C) Are simply weak where the enemy is strong (or, with their Mobile units nearby, potentially strong); and so forth. Those are the hexes where you might want to fish around the map during your Regular Movement Phase to try to set up a mix-and-match defense in anticipation of managing what kind of step losses you might suffer there.

Preserving the Panzer Spearpoint

Keep Panzer step losses to a minimum to optimize their frontline strength. Other articles in this series elaborate why avoiding uncomfortable risk is a sure-fire losing strategy, but there are two salient points that must be made here:

1. Panzer losses, on average, are higher conducting overruns than slugging away at decent odds on the Combat Results Table (CRT). Of course, to conduct an overrun, the enemy must leave you a 1-step unit to drive through (and it should be worth doing so). One natural Soviet defense tactic is to keep their lads concentrated, offering few or no 1-step occupied hexes as overrun targets, and when defending a hex with a single step, making sure it has terrain shift benefits (which also apply to Overruns).

2. If:

The Soviets are denying you overrun opportunities, or

Maybe you are a bit lucky with your overall Battle die rolls, or

The Soviets are craven with their counterattacks (i.e., they are more afraid of sucking up punishment themselves instead of meting out punishment your forces), or

There is a lull while your logistics catch up with a corresponding decrease in your offensive operations (i.e., you’re not risking lower-odds attacks with so many unsupplied, half-Attack Strength units on the map), or

Any combination of these…

Then you might discover your EPs spent to keep the Panzers at full strength are averaging as low as 1 or fewer per turn. Aha! Is that the sweet smell of opportunity? At that rate, you will have a few EPs to spare and can consider (among other things) riskier, lower-odds attacks that engender more frequent Axis Heavy unit losses. Keeping in mind that your out of supply (i.e., half-Attack Strength) units are still backed up by your Air Force, those Close Air Support lightning bolts (particular from Stukas) are just the tools you need to open a Costco-size can of worms for your opponent – capturing key hexes and keeping some attrition and positional pressure on the Soviets during the logistical lulls of your advance.

These narrowly focused efforts while your supply lines are catching up are not, themselves, “war winners,” but since you can afford the attrition in your Panzer forces under this favorable set of circumstances, you might as well hurl the dice in anger and try to make the Soviets suffer for it. Any turn you can break the back of an improved Soviet defense line is a good one. And you can reach as low as 1:2 odds if there are 3 Close Support icons assisting you (figuring you’ll get 2 of them shifting your odds up); a net 3:2 attack has about a 1/3 chance of capturing that hex you deemed so worthy. Holding that hex through the lull gives you a great departure point for your next wave of supplied attacks once the beans, bullets, and bandages arrive.

Heck, you might even find yourself voluntarily suffering Heavy step losses because you have more EPs than your Light units have PPs for replacements, and you want to maintain their precious balance so the Soviets do not seize upon your economic weakness and exploit it further.

18 Steps to Victory or Defeat

There they are -- 18 German PPs and 18 Axis EPs between finishing the Barbarossa scenario strong or weak. We have not considered the additional costs of purchasing a few more Offensive Points (you should be able to manage with the dozen you start with) or building some units which start in the Force Pool (building up the component Divisions for the Romanian Mechanized Corps unit; gaining the Hungarian Air Force, or taking the additional German Fighter unit; these are tempting options, but the order of the day is Smart Aggression on the map combined with Thrift on the Axis Display mat.

Axis Force Pool

When playing the Axis in Barbarossa, well begun is halfway done – but you will soon discover this scenario is not a sprint so much as a mini-marathon, and how strong you finish will most likely determine which Objective hexes you count as captured at the dawn of what would be the October I 1941 turn (and the Typhoon scenario).

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