Sunday, July 9, 2017

Revisiting Aleksinac via Bloody Big BATTLES

Onur, Emir, Morten and I met up on the 8th of July to do a Bloody Big Battles game, on the occasion of Morten's visit to Istanbul. Since Onur ever had the chance until know to use his Serbian 10mm Army in a game, we decided to revisit the Battle of Aleksinac during the Serbo-Ottoman War of 1876-1877. This is a scenario we had done before, but with proxies for the Serbs.

In that game I had played the Serbs and had been soundly trounced by Onur and Emir. This time Onur and Morten took the role of the Serbian commanders, while I took the role of Abdul Kerim Pasha, Ottoman commander, with Emir taking the role of the subordinate commander Ali Saib Pasha.

My war plan was simple. rather than attacking headlong the strong defensive positions of the Serbs on Golgovicha and Sumatovach, I would demonstrate against them, and sent part of the forces to cross the difficult terrain from the north-east, and sent a strong augmented force under Emir west of the Morava to strike at Trnjani. Once these objectives were taken we could focus if needed on Aleksinac itself. The plan was completely my responsibility, with Emir having the task of executing part of it. I was taking a major calculated risk with the decision to try and outflank the Serbs from the East, as the ground was very broken. But I believed it was a rational gamble.

My plan, Serbian dispositions, and how the battle went (click for bigger picture)

Onur and Morten decided to a forward defense. In general we were able to implement my plan, with Emir doing and especially good job in the west. However, my rational gamble did not pay off. First the difficult terrain, passive Ottoman command, and steep slopes did their worse in making our advance, especially east of the Morava very slow. Thus the two flanking maneuvers did not advance in pace. Furthermore, the forces that were supposed to demonstrate against the Serbian center completely failed to arrive at their position and task. As a result Morten and Onur were able to slowly withdraw their forward positions, sacrificing space for time, and gaining a smaller front that permitted them to compile a mobile reserve. 

The result was the 1st) While we were able at various points of the game to take Alexinac and Sumatovac, and to threaten Trnjani, we were never able to do so in the same moment and thus break the Serbian resistance. Onur and Morten's were always able to counterattack and plug holes. 2nd) The arrival of the Serbian flanking force from the east forced me to scramble forces to protect my lines of communication.Forces that could not help consolidate gains.

You can see Video AAR here


The end of the battle saw the Serbs hold 3 objectives to the Ottoman 1. Thus a Serbian victory. In general both sides had bad to average dice in shooting and command roles. The Ottomans did have better dice in Assault. But the Passive trait in conjunction with the difficult terrain made the bad command dice of the Ottomans have more of a consequence than the bad dice of the Serbs.  Friction took its toll for both armies, but much for the Ottomans.

And let us be frank, the fault is totally mine. While I do believe the plan I came up with was legitimate, it was a plan that did increases the risk of operational friction and perhaps too ambitious in the face of Passive, Steep Hills, Difficult Terrain conditions. I chose a gamble that did not work

The game did led to some thoughts on scenario design. While I think the scenario is very balanced, it got me thinking that some combinations of scenario rules might be overtly punishing and make for a game that can be frustrating a times. It did feel that making the Ottomans Passive, Slopes Steep, and all hills difficult terrain was too much. Perhaps only 2 of 3 should had been present.  Finally, unquestionably I can find 12 turn games taxing, especially when combined with tons  difficult ground. What this means down the way for my scenario design is an open question. But I am beginning to think that a side should not have more than 2-3 disadvantages if the opposition does not also have at least 1 or more. 

Some pictures
The set-up

Looking North to South

Looking North to South

Looking West to East

Looking East to West

More photos (courtesy of Onur)


The Ottoman Army

The Serb Army

The initial commanders.

End of Turn 1

Turn 3
Turn 4

Turn 5

Turn 6

Turn 7

Turn 8

Turn 9

Turn 10

Turn 11

Turn 12

Objectives before the last turn. 


Chris BBB said...

Konstantinos, thanks for a very nice report. I agree 12 turns is quite long, and these days with a lot of scenario design experience behind me I try to make games shorter than that if I can. On the other hand, in this one the Turks need the time to cross all that difficult terrain. Which brings me to your other point, about the cumulative disadvantages. I know it can be frustrating commanding poor armies in difficult terrain. But if that was the situation, the scenario has to reflect that, doesn't it? And then the players have to choose plans that minimize the impact of those disadvantages: use column of march on roads as much as possible, use what clear terrain there is, keep troops concentrated so that as many as possible can benefit from a general if you have one ... As you said, this scenario seems reasonably balanced (you have seen it won by both sides, and I know I have seen a Turkish victory as well). But still, good thoughts, and certainly these are things to bear in mind in designing future scenarios.


Konstantinos Travlos said...

Thanks Chris. I have been thinking of a framework for getting a handle of the dis-advantages. You are right that we should not shy from the historical reality. But then we should use other things to make up for an overwhelming historical reality (we already do it-I am just trying to come up with a more streamlined system for getting at the ratio of disadvantages).

It also might all be that these days I am very frustrated due to work and in general not a fun fellow. Who knows :)

vtsaogames said...

If the scenario seems unbalanced, I prefer to move the goal posts. For example, I played Memoir '44 during the long July 4th weekend. We played the Omaha Beach scenario and both times the US were cut to ribbons. That's about what happened to the first wave, but not much of a game. The scenario has both sides need to win 4 medals. I think if the Germans needed to score 6 while the US still needed 4 you might have a game. That's moving the goal posts instead of tinkering with the engine.