"L'audace, encore l'audace, et toujour l'audace"

By Alan Emrich 

This article focuses on the need to keep pushing past your supply lines when you are in a position to punish your enemy; the best defense being an ass-kicking offense.

ETO Romanian GHQ Balanced"Look! Down on the map! It's a tank! It's a plane! No, it's Super Wargamer! Rail Moves using speeding locomotives; able to relocate HQ markers in a single bound…" And that last part is where many a Super Wargamer trips up on the map -- making that single bound. Certainly, the rubber band nature of relocating HQ markers for supply purposes requires them to make that bound; as the front lines move, HQs must move with them. However, during the chaos when the newly-captured Supply City hexes and just-relocated HQ markers go dark (i.e., are under the negating spell of a Countdown marker), caution comes to the fore and the player on offense typically stops to "tidy up their lines," lick their wounds, and let their supply catch up. But that can be a very bad idea…

Speed is a Force Multiplier

When is the best time to kick a man? Correct; when he's down! And after the Germans kick the door in along the Russian border in 1941, or when the Soviets have torn gaping holes in the Axis lines in 1944, why should they ever stop kicking? It is during these times of extreme advantage when, Patton-like, you need to damn your supply lines and press ahead with unsupplied units even though it means they suffer from half Attack Strengths.

Yes, it means pressing your attacks will be at half the odds you would have enjoyed if supplied.

Yes, it means your mobile forces will be pushing ahead; probably attacking on their own without infantry support to help shoulder the losses or maybe even attacking without air cover.

So, yes, your attacking spearheads will be "bleeding" tanks.

And, yes, it will get harder to form a line to protect against counterattacks as you keep pushing forward (and those counterattacks will come!).

Still, the adage of the best defense being a good offense rings true. The enemy will have enough problems while you are smashing them and driving into their territory; the speed and violence of your approach needs to be aggressive enough to keep your opponent off-balance. In the vernacular of the modern military, speed is a "force multiplier." That means your units are stronger, if not always physically then certainly psychologically (in the enemy's mind). So hit them hard, hit them fast, but above all, keep hitting them!

Overruns: Benefits vs. Risks

ETO Overrun tableThe personification of audacity in Frank Chadwick's ETO system is born of the Overrun rule. In classic hex-and-counter wargaming (such as the antecedents of Thunder in the East), a defender fleeing pell-mell would leave behind a small sacrificial unit to hold off the onrushing attackers, dispassionately using those forlorn soldiers (and their Zone of Control) to buy time for the bulk of their forces' escape. Such rearguard tactics in gaming are abundantly effective, but so much so that ETO features a clever Overrun system for attacking forces poised to brush such defenders aside during Movement. If successful, that attacking side has more room to maneuver and can attack more effectively by concentrating on the enemy's fleeing forces rather than on their rear guard.

Naturally, there is also a risk when audaciously overrunning the opponent's rearguard forces willy-nilly. Essentially, to succeed, each Overrun requires the overrunning unit to roll a die and obtain a result higher than the overrun unit's Defense Strength. Success eliminates the overrun unit and the overrunning unit can continue moving; failure inflicts a step loss on the overrunning unit and halts it in its tracks. High risk, high reward. For the Axis attacking, this risk is compounded and confounded by the myriad Soviet Untried units they will encounter, whose Defense Strengths vary widely (typically from 1 to 4, averaging in the middle somewhere).

The Signs of Defeat

Taking namesIf you consider that there is an important benefit achievable with a particularly successful Overrun, but then shy away from conducting it because of the risk, that is a sure sign that you have ceased to kick them when they're down! Even if you suffer from Gamer's Aleaphobia (the fear of dice; quite common among this hobby's legendary unlucky rollers), you need only determine that Overrun will profit you beyond the mere elimination of the targeted enemy unit (and there are usually some important secondary benefits). Staying audacious requires you to pick up that speckled cube of fate and read from it the random verdict of Mars. Never let your opponent see you sweat making Overrun decisions! They should live in constant fear that you will seek out Overruns (and make lots of them!), but only make the ones yielding the biggest follow-on benefits when they succeed.

Another way you will know you are in violation of the spirit of audacity is when your opponent calculates the range of your supply and, two hexes or so further back from that range, builds a defensive line there – and then you fail to immediately attack it! When you see that happening on the map, the commander on offense should be recalled to the capital for a severe dressing-down (e.g., shot) and replaced with a more aggressive commander.

"I don't want to risk my Mobile units to attritional combat losses! The odds I can muster attacking are unacceptable!" Too bad; you can't make an omelet without breaking eggs and you can't capture large swaths of territory without breaking vehicles. You must accept your poor-odds attacks and be prepared to take your lumps for as long as you can sustain the offensive.

no bad breath"I'm concerned about what my opponent might do!" What's wrong with you? <slap> <slap> Snap out of it! If you let the enemy rest they will either: 1) Improve their defenses and thus reduce your immediate prospects for maintaining the offensive; or 2) Build up enough strength to launch counterattacks and throw monkey wrenches in your offensive, putting you off-balance. Either way, if you stop and let them catch their breath, it's bad (and nobody likes bad breath; not letting your opponent breathe neatly solves that problem).

Get Pokey, Mon

Ooza-paloozaAnother feat of audacious players in ETO is boldly going where cautious players dare not tread. That is, the Zone of Control (ZOC) rule is very simple: Ground units must stop upon entry. Therefore, a unit can exit an Enemy Zone of Control (EZOC) freely and move directly into another, thus allowing it to ooze through pores in the enemy line (except across Major River and Strait hexsides). Such infiltration is permissible by front-line Motorized and Mounted units (only) during their Special Movement Step, and by all front line units during their Regular Movement Step (which can become an ooze-a-palooza).

Infiltration is a generally good tactic for Motorized units during their Special Movement Step, particularly if they are oozing through a river defense line. Doing so always allows that unit to attack from its own hex (which is not on its front line), and that usually means unhinging that enemy position with an attack across three hexsides (which should provide decent odds). There are no Attacker Retreat results on the ETO Ground Combat table, so if things go bad during your Combat Step those Motorized units can simply ooze right back again during their Regular Movement Step.

Such infiltration during a Regular Movement Step is another matter and a real test of mettle. There is no going back! Audacious players seek out these opportunities, particularly across river lines, to push units forward in hopes they will survive an enemy counterattack from that exposed position. If they do survive, the enemy position they oozed around becomes unhinged (as might the opponent) and, during the opponent's Regular Movement Step, they must take a hard look at either doing damage control against your oozed salient or falling back to another defensive position.

The key to this audacious maneuver is surviving that counterattack to hold the infiltrated hex. To that purpose, I typically infiltrate two units into a salient and try to muster the most Defense Strength in that hex possible. Yes, those poor units are very exposed (and the counterattack will see them surrounded by EZOCs so their Retreat losses will be high if they fail to hold, but what a problem for the opponent if they succeed – at some point, you’ve got to crack those river lines or settle down and hold the other side of them). Infiltrating with Heavy units is great if the opponent has a dearth of locals and reserves to counterattack with because Heavy units can Retreat through Light units' ZOCs without incurring step losses. Finally, try to keep Defensive Air Support (i.e., red lightning bolt Air units) available when there is a vital ooze-through that you must protect.

And a truly audacious player on offense will conduct multiple and repeated such infiltrations knowing that half will be stinging failures (with corresponding losses) but the other half could well frustrate the enemy back to their next defensive position. By multiplying this gambit over several hexes and turns, it is less vital that any one infiltration maneuver survives the opponent's counterattack as long as enough do to create wedges you can drive into those enemy positions on your next turn.

Seizing the Offensive

And the player on the strategic defensive at that moment should not just try to put together the next defensive position and hope for the enemy's timidity or exhaustion to take over. The strategic defender must "roll the die in anger" and counterattack wherever and whenever it is even remotely acceptable! Again, to paraphrase Patton, "I wouldn't give a hoot in Hell for a player who lost and laughed." Failure to counterattack is a root cause of strategic failure.

ETO Soviet Southwest HQ (Attack)When your forces are playing defense in a campaign, a loser hopes that the attacker's attrition on the Combat Results Table from Stalemate and Exchange results will grind them to a halt. It is possible, however unlikely, they will roll pathetically bad causing that to happen, but you cannot count on it. You must make local counterattacks and put the fear of what you might do in the enemy's mind; you need to plant some doubt, some caution, some respect for your forces into your opponent's planning. Your units have Attack Strengths too, you know! Make the enemy Rush Recover "red lightning" Air units for defensive Air Support because they're worried what you might do. Putting an HQ marker that you are falling back onto in Attack mode (and focusing on a 2-odds shift for your counterattack from it as it spews forth strong units from your Theater Reserve to support it can really blunt enemy operations.

ETO USSR 6th Early Mech CorpsHINT: Keep some high Attack Strength units, such as strong Soviet Early Mech or Panzer corps in your Theater Reserve when you are looking at counterattack possibilities near your "fall back" HQs. They are highly appropriate and wonderful Theater Reserves to release when counterattacking!

Bernard Law Montgomery once remarked during a spate of increasingly bad news arriving at his headquarters that, at such times, one should stop and consider what a jolly-rotten time the other fellow is having. That's right! And it is your job to make sure the strategic attacker has a jolly-rotten time and their reports are filled with bad news too. Your opponent's mind is also your battlefield!

The Truth About the Ground Combat Results Table

When you study the Ground Combat table, you will see that it generally favors the attacker (and certainly doesn't inflict excessive attrition to the attacker, even at low odds). Well, then, if it favors the attacker, be the attacker! Even if that means putting together risky counterattacks, if they have any potential for a worthwhile positional or attritional payoff, it is probably worth the risk. The Ground Combat table is good for armies getting things done, and bad for armies getting things done to them!

ETO Ground CRT

Mathe-magician Keven Roust says:

3:1 odds are not audacious as they yield guaranteed results

2:1 odds are a bit risky but the Defender suffers worse than the Attacker on average

3:2 odds are audacious and are good enough versus an enemy unit surrounded by ZOCs that will suffer losses if it Retreats.

Examples of Audacity from Operation Barbarossa

Consider the opening Axis Movement Phase of Operation Barbarossa, where the Soviets have helpfully deployed their forces, typically, in alternating 1- and 3-step stacks. Thanks to the warrior's blessings bestowed by the Blitzkrieg! Card, during this initial Axis Special Movement Step, German Motorized units ignore all EZOCs in the first EZOC hex they enter. So, not only should the German Panzers deftly Overrun key Soviet 1-step units plugging the gaps in the Soviet's initial deployment, but those Panzers need not cease their movement in that hex and can instead infiltrate further, and even one hex further can be devastating to the Soviet's defenses. If the Soviets have no 1-step units on the frontier, then there must be holes somewhere else, and those must be exploited to the fullest.

Think about that… those marauding Panzers will be looking for Soviets to attack during the ensuing Combat Phase, and that leaves two likely possibilities for their initial Special Movement Step maneuvers: 1) "Close the door" and attack the Soviet front line from the rear using those Panzers' strengths for improved odds and ZOCs to prevent the beleaguered Soviet Armies from safely retreating away; OR the audacious approach, 2) Seek Soviet units deeper in their rear, make them suffer, and plan on where those Panzers should go in the Axis Regular Movement Step that follows their 2-hex (always a "Breakthrough" on the first turn of their Sneak Attack) Advance After Combat.

You should not require all of your Panzers on “door closing” duty for their odds-raising strength and ZOCs to block enemy Retreats. After all, on the Blitzkrieg! Sneak Attack turn, even the German Infantry units can move their full Movement Allowance, allowing them to "ooze" a bit behind the Overrunning Panzers and surround stationary Soviet Armies awaiting their fate on the border. Consequently, "deep penetration" options are certainly worth investigating, particular when you combine this with another facet of Blitzkrieg!, that all German units ignore EZOCs and spend only 1 Movement Point per hex entered during the Axis Standard Movement Step -- and this includes for Overruns during that Step! EZOCs do not hinder your supply lines during a Sneak Attack, either. And, while this is yet another chance to audaciously eliminate key Soviet 1-step units, the "risk/reward value" of Overrunning Soviet 1-steppers during the Axis Regular Movement Step is pretty low as their untried-quality is as good as it gets and you likely won't need to eliminate them to improve your post-combat maneuvering room.

Foch YouFor the Soviet player, the second turn of Operation Barbarossa is usually their worst turn of the game; perhaps not worse than the first turn in terms of territory and troop losses, but your second turn Dead Pile congregation (considered in sum with the first turn's losses), combined with your units' deteriorating supply circumstances, will likely strain your counterattack potential. Remember the words of Marshal Foch during the previous World War: "Mon centre cède, ma droite recule, situation excellente, j'attaque" (My center is yielding, my right is in retreat, situation excellent, I am attacking).

For the Axis player, by stretching audacity to the limit, you must make the Soviets first two turns the worst worst turns in any wargame ever and further demoralize the Soviet player. Anything the Axis can do to encourage Soviet mistakes as they strive to salvage their crumbling situation leaves fresh opportunities to show your audacity on turn three (which is about when you must consider bounding your HQ markers forward).

 

Alternate Viewpoints

Among the TitE development forum posts, playtesters have postulated this counterpoint:

ETO USSR Mystery MechConsider the typical Overrun Me! lone Mystery Mech or Mystery Meat unit (and lone 1 step units become scarce after the first turn of Barbarossa precisely because they can be overrun). If this unit is revealed as an 8-4-[5] Early Mech Corps, an overrunning 24-16-[5] Panzer Army fails 50% of the time on die rolls of 1-3.

But during the Axis Combat Step, consider that a measly combo of a German 4-6-4 Infantry Corps and a Second Line 2-4-3 Corps can attack that same mighty 8-4-[5] Soviet Early Mech Corps at 3:2 odds – shift the odds two to the right (for an HQ marker in Attack mode plus the German Generals card benefit) and voila, a 3-1. If Axis Heavy ZOCs surround that Soviet Early Mech Corps it elimination is guaranteed.

That is, the worst German Infantry units do better than an overrunning Panzer Army by simply waiting for the Axis Ground Combat Step. Therefore, you can make a real case for Panzer patience and preservation.

To which Alan Emrich responds:

Frank Chadwick playing Thunder in the EastWatching Frank Chadwick play as the Axis during Barbarossa in Fire in the East a couple ConsimWorld Expos ago (pictured here), he showed that respectful, cautious approach to overruns. However, I see a "time value" to generating enemy casualties during a Movement Phase. To me, there are two parts to the whole notion of overruns in ETO:

First, overruns exist in this wargame so that weak 1-step units can't completely stop a larger mobile force opposing them during movement (constipating the attacker's momentum). This cheesy sacrificial blocking unit technique is an "Avalon Hill Classic" ploy that is as old as wargaming (some of us remember the Prussian and Allied 1-6s in Avalon Hill's Waterloo). The important thing here is that the defender has to think these rear guards are good overrun candidates and must thus employ some caution setting up defenses. When you overrun in a predictably cautious way, the defender need never worry about that, and cheap sacrificial "maneuver blocking" units will be considerably more effective.

Second, I see the attacker's cost (in potential step losses) as the price of doing business for the potential benefit of killing that unit during a Movement Phase. If the overrun succeeds, those mobile units receive the huge benefit of performing "double duty" by delivering their Attack Strength multiple times that turn (literally increasing their "force multiplier"). Removing a defending unit during your Special Movement Phase opens up all kinds of exploitable secondary possibilities for maneuver and combat odds improvement. This possibility must remain a defender's nightmare. I fully expect, when playing the Axis in Barbarossa, to bleed a couple Panzer steps per turn during the opening turns; that's just the cost of not doing business on the cheap at this scale…

Even if a given overrun fails, you benefit from your opponent respecting that you have the sand to attempt them. Your opponent must remain respectful of your overrun capabilities when preparing defenses on future turns. Yes, there is a price to pay in Mobile unit step losses, but you cannot live rent free in your opponent's mind forever. Occasionally, you must pay a few steps to keep your opponent guessing.

Overruns are not for the bean-counters, they're for mind-gamers. That is, the math doesn't always (or even often) make sense; there are layers of psychological impact that performing overruns (particularly when successful) engenders. In a game with the front-line scope of Thunder in the East, your opponent's mental state and respect for your aggressiveness matters everywhere along the front (and not just where the occasional overrun was attempted).

Unhinging your opponent's line and unhinging your opponent’s mental “game state” are two sides of the same coin. 

To which Lance McMillan proffers:

This is an interesting presentation in extremes. Overruns should be seen for what they are: another tool in the player's toolbox. Calculating the risk weighed against the likely payoff, rather than pure opportunism or strict economy of force – something difficult to evaluate correctly in the micro sense without considering the macro context looming over the entire map.

If you are behind schedule (i.e., not grabbing enough objectives to win), then you must push your mobile forces forward in hopes of getting back on track or admit defeat; if you are ahead of schedule, why risk suffering unnecessary losses? Curiously, we have seen players adopt precisely the opposite philosophy! That is, when they are behind they exhibit reluctance to take more risks (and what does risk matter if you have already, essentially, lost the game?) and when they are ahead it is perceived as an opportunity to throw caution to the wind, recklessly giving their opponent unneeded opportunities to punish them.

While TitE certainly has attritional aspects, players must realize that attrition is merely a means to an end, not an end in itself. Attrition weakens the enemy and helps create vulnerabilities – points in your opponent's stretched lines which you can exploit. Attempting overruns to kill even a weak enemy unit is rarely worth the risk, but doing so when it creates a strategic benefit can be.

Unlike many other East Front games, TitE does not have a clock requiring the seizure of X Objectives each turn; there is simply a final total required to win – it is up to the players to pace correctly their change in ownership. That calculation should determine each side's level of strategic aggression or caution. Saying "be aggressive" or "be cautious" is too simplistic; determine a realistic assessment of your current situation and act accordingly.

And Kevin Roust sums up:

My rule of thumb is: if you can drive around it, let the infantry mop up. I only overrun things that are blocking the advance of units to the front (during my Special Movement Step) or in supply-cutting Rail City hexes (during my Regular Movement Step). In exceptional circumstances, I will overrun to force a hole in the enemy line if it allows me to make two three-hex attacks afterward during my Combat Step and then blow a 3-hex gap in the enemy line allowing me unrestricted movement through it during my Regular Movement Step.

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