Able Archer first play, Soviets vs US

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Able Archer first play, Soviets vs US

Postby josta59 » Tue Sep 15, 2015 11:08 am

For the past month I've been itching to try a Cold War miniatures game I found called Able Archer (see my earlier post here). I came upon it while playing my long game of SabreSquadron and had to wait for that one to finish up. Able Archer, while receiving no attention from anyone else despite plenty of marketing effort by its Czech designer, got me excited for several reasons, including brevity, lots of vehicle stats, simple air unit rules, and more interesting infantry rules vs the free version of SabreSquadron.

So I had my first go at it over the weekend, and it didn't pan out so swimmingly. I borrowed another scenario from the SabreSquadron website, this time with a tank-heavy Soviet company crossing the Czechoslovakian border into the Bavarian region of West Germany and facing off against a well-trained US platoon defending a small village called Lesslohe in the 1990s. The only major difference between my scenario and the one from SabreSquadron was that my table was heavily forested from the Soviet entry point up to the village, while the original scenario had small spots of forest. On my table, the Soviet company could only be seen by choppers and by tanks driving at them on the highway, a far cry different from my recent game of SabreSquadron in which the invading Soviet force were sitting ducks the entire game. Also, I used a village as cover for the Americans rather than hills.

Lesslohe table_01_setup.jpg
US in the village, Soviets approaching from the east


But this time things turned out very differently for the Soviets, and very different from the AAR on the SabreSquadron site. The US side was supported by two Apache helicopters (we've had them on our site's banner for so long, I figured someone should make use of them), and the Able Archer rules allowed them to be the ultimate killers they are. The US received initiative for turn 1 and activated the Apache flight first. Able Archer, unlike SabreSquadron, allows units to move and then fire. So they moved halfway across the table from the west, and both targeted the Soviets' poor lone anti-aircraft vehicle, a ZSU23/4 Shilka, at medium range. Both choppers fired Hellfire missiles, and both hit, but only one penetrated the vehicle's armor. I knew this would make things very lopsided, but I didn't know yet just how bad it would be.

Activations alternate between sides in these rules, another big difference from SabreSquadron. So the Soviets started their move with an off-table programmed artillery barrage, targeting the Americans' M109A3 artillery battery which was on the table. I got the impression that it's easier to miss your target in Able Archer than in SabreSquadron. The scale is quite different between the two games, and rolling a d6 for accuracy in Able Archer to get the scatter in inches can put you way off the mark easily, even with a 3" area of effect. Accuracy increases substantially if a friendly command vehicle can see the target, however (use a d3 instead of d6), so perhaps this is reasonable. It's a very different feel from SabreSquadron's artillery mechanism, though, perhaps because you can't fire arty at all in that game unless an observation officer has LoS to an enemy unit. Anyway, the Soviets missed by a long shot.

The US moved their fire support officer to the edge of the forest so he could see the Russian T80 tanks coming. The tanks started making their approach and moved from a small road onto a Bavarian highway leading to Lesslohe. The FSO couldn't see them due to a bend in the road. The US artillery decided to fire anyway, but they also missed.

The Americans decided to risk a couple of M1A1s to slow the Soviet approach, moving them into the forested area via the highway. The lead tank moved close enough to see the Soviets' 1st platoon, fired at the enemy's lead tank at medium range, and popped smoke. The shot hit the Russian tank's turret but didn't penetrate it. The smoke blew away quickly, leaving the American tank open to return fire. (The checkmarks on the table are my simple "ops complete" markers.)

Lesslohe table_02_end turn 1.jpg
Apaches take out air defense and M1A1s try to hold them off


But the Americans got to start turn 2, as well. Their tank stopped and fired again, getting an accuracy bonus for not moving. But it got the same result.

The three T80s of the Soviet 1st platoon opened fire on the M1A1 in sight and turned it into Swiss cheese. Strangely the tank firing at short range was unable to penetrate it, while the other two did penetrate at medium range.

But then the Apaches activated again, this time increasing their accuracy by hovering. They opened up with Hellfire, rockets, and chain guns and completely wiped out the Soviet 1st platoon and the HQ tank behind it. It was ugly. But it seemed realistic. Able Archer allows vehicles with multiple weapons to use them on separate targets. Each turn represents a few minutes. So this seemed right.

Lesslohe table_03_end game.jpg
Death from above and game over


The US side allowed the rest of the Russian company to escape to the south at the marginal victory point. The highway led to a neighboring German village. They could’ve launched another arty strike, but it might have hit the choppers, so they didn’t. The victory was obviously theirs, anyway.

Interestingly, the AAR for this scenario at the SabreSquadron website had the Russians winning. The open terrain they used might have made a difference, since the Russian tanks were able to form a line from north to south rather than approaching in a line on the road. And they could presumably fire on the village as they approached, but of course they were open to American fire as well. But I suspect the bigger difference may have been in the vehicle combat rules. My two Apaches could attack up to six targets in one turn. The SabreSquadron rules are more limiting, at least in my experience with the free rules. One vehicle attacks one target per turn. Which is more realistic?

It may have also come down to initiative, too. There are no initiative rules in SabreSquadron, at least not in the free version I played. Their AAR, while not giving much detail, states that the Apaches were warded off by the Soviet air defences, meaning the one Shilka on the table. If the Soviets had started the game, as maybe they should have since this was an attack scenario, maybe the Shilka would’ve stood a chance against the choppers.

So, since I put a lot of preparation into this game for not a lot of gaming time, and since I really want to see how infantry combat works in Able Archer, I plan to restart this game with three Shilkas, and automatic initiative for the Soviet side in turn 1. And I'll start with Apaches on the table, so the Shilkas have a chance to take them down at the very start. Let’s give them a real fighting chance, and hopefully we’ll see some close combat in Lesslohe.

TO BE CONTINUED
"...military glory, that attractive rainbow that rises in showers of blood—that serpent's eye that charms to destroy..." --Abraham Lincoln, 1848

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Re: Able Archer first play, Soviets vs US

Postby josta59 » Wed Sep 16, 2015 9:33 pm

Yargh. I started the game again, this time giving the Soviets three anti-aircraft Shilkas and gave them initiative in turn 1. All three quad-mounted cannons rolled horribly and missed the choppers, though, to be fair, the range was quite long (all the way across the table). The birds moved in and took out all three easily. Might as well end the game there, since I know what they'll do to the defenseless T80s.

Guess if I'm going to see how infantry work in this game, I need to cut out the attack choppers, or at least disarm them a bit. I wonder how realistic it would be to add some spotting rules, so the choppers don't know exactly which vehicles are Shilkas from all the way across the table.

If you ever agree to play this game with me and I give myself Apaches, make sure you bring a lot of anti-aircraft weaponry.
"...military glory, that attractive rainbow that rises in showers of blood—that serpent's eye that charms to destroy..." --Abraham Lincoln, 1848

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Re: Able Archer first play, Soviets vs US

Postby josta59 » Thu Sep 24, 2015 12:26 pm

For my third take on this table, I again gave the Russians three Shilkas, but this time I armed the two Apaches with only chain guns, no missiles or rockets. That turned out to be unnecessary this time, since two Shilkas brought down both birds at the very start, from across the length of the table.

This time I ended up wishing I'd given the Soviets only one Shilka, because without the Apaches things got very one-sided in the other direction! And it was mostly because of the advanced armor on the T80s, which deflected most of the TOWs and Dragons thrown at them from the mechanized platoons in the town as they got near. Compared with SabreSquadron, it's much harder to penetrate advanced armor using a missile in Able Archer. I'm not sure which game is more accurate in that regard.

I got really focused on this game and forgot to take many pictures. Once the Apaches were gone, I basically started anew as if they were never there and got to the ground tactics. Like last time, I moved the American FSO to the edge of the forest to direct artillery fire once the Russian tanks came into view. The first Soviet artillery strike hit south of town and had no effect.

Then I made a dumb move, following what I'd done last time. I tried to stall the Soviet column by rushing the two M1A1s out to meet them on the highway. Two tanks versus ten. The idea was to keep them far out enough that the US artillery could kill a lot of them while they were still far from the town. But I could've accomplished that in a safer way if I'd kept the US tanks out of view at the edge of the forest and conducted guerilla tactics, moving them in and out of LoS. The Able Archer rules are very flexible like that, unlike SabreSquadron. Almost too flexible, except that the Soviets could've chosen to stop moving and go on overwatch to disrupt the American tanks' tactical movement.

In any event, the M1A1s drove out as fast as they could, and then the Soviet tanks came around the bend and got to fire first, at short range. It was nearly a slaughter, due to my bad tactical plan. But one American tank survived this first turn, helped by the smoke rising from its partner in front of it.

The American artillery fired and caught four tanks, including HQ, in the fire zone. But with some lucky rolling, all four tanks managed to avoid the shells.

In turn 2 I had the crazy idea to use the remaining M1A1 to lead the Soviet column to the US FSO for more accurate artillery fire. But they were going that way anyway, so it was kind of pointless. The Soviet 1st platoon destroyed the FSO, and the HQ tank immobilized the last American tank. It could still try to slow them down, but that does little good if you don't have the tools to keep them away from their objective. At this point, I didn't know how difficult that would be.

The M1A1 was damaged further at the beginning of turn 3, but it was still alive. It fired back and damaged a Soviet tank, and that's when I finally remembered to take a picture (still need more work to make the pics bigger):

Lesslohe table_take 3_01_turn 3_crop.png
Tank battle on the highway. The puff of smoke on the right is the first American tank to bite it; that on the left is the FSO vehicle.


Then I decided to load up the US command team onto the HQ Bradley and go fire some missiles. The first one struck true and destroyed a T80.

Soviet artillery managed to catch an M109A3 in the fire zone, thanks to their HQ tank being close enough to see the town. The artillery vehicle managed to avoid the shelling, though.

Then the Americans in the town got involved. 1st Section fired TOW and Dragon missiles but failed to pierce the Soviet armor. Then 2nd section moved out and managed to take out a tank, but not before the HQ Bradley was hit and damaged.

In turn 4, 1st Section moved into cover and continued failing to penetrate the tanks' armor. Then the Russian tanks finally went around the American vehicles they'd damaged and made their way to the edge of town, bringing the fight to the US mechanized infantry. 1st Section's Bradley was destroyed by the Soviet 2nd platoon, followed by 2nd Section's Bradley. 2nd Section then close-assaulted one of the tanks and destroyed it! But then 3rd platoon arrived spouting machine-gun fire and suppressing the American troops.

The HQ Bradley unloaded its soldiers and tried to get a rear shot at one of the tanks that had passed it, but it missed due to the damage it had received. The Soviet motor rifle platoon responded by dropping its entire platoon of troops right next to the American command team, blocking them from the action in the town. The BMPs fired MGs at the American weapons team in town, destroying what was left of 1st Section and breaking 2nd Section.

The remaining M1A1 wasn't giving up yet. It rotated its turret for one last rear shot and fired MG at the Russian infantry. The infantry weren't affected, but a T80 was satisfyingly destroyed by the American tank's final action. But then the T80s still on the highway destroyed both the M1A1 and the HQ Bradley. There were just too many of them.

Finally, the Soviet HQ tank advanced and destroyed the American command team with its machine gun. There was practically nothing left of the American side after this devastating turn 4, but I had them take a morale test anyway. They would need to roll a 14 on a 2d6 to keep the last suppressed weapons team fighting. Ha ha, game over.

Lesslohe table_take 3_02_END_crop.png
Russian tanks enter town and slaughter everyone. Sorry so hard to see.
Lesslohe table_take 3_02_END_crop.png (99.45 KiB) Viewed 793 times


This was a frustrating game, but I blame myself rather than the rules. I want to try them out some more.

The biggest issue I'm having is with the scale the author established. I used the legend on Google Maps to accurately convert to inches, and the entire town is less than a foot long. So a tank can drive all the way across it in one turn. That's ok, since turns are supposed to represent a few minutes. But it means a player can do almost whatever they want to do in a single turn, and I'm just not used to that. It's so different from SabreSquadron, which has drawn complaints about how slow infantry are able to move. In terms of movement, these two games are opposites. It makes me wonder how much these rules were tested, and especially if the scale is really what the author had in mind.

Otherwise, these rules are pretty cool, and I like the fact that they're brief. I'm planning to reorganize them in a new document and do a little rewriting, because I had a little trouble searching for the finer points throughout the game. They need editing.

Actually, I think there's a newer version, because I saw a post on the Able Archer blog about changing the rules so that penetrated vehicles are automatically destroyed rather than being immobilized or damaged (though I kind of like that the way it is). The link to the latest rules doesn't work, so I reached out to the author to see if I can get his latest version. Maybe there are other changes, as well.
"...military glory, that attractive rainbow that rises in showers of blood—that serpent's eye that charms to destroy..." --Abraham Lincoln, 1848


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